“Now boy, wot are you doin’ in such an ‘urry?” one of a pair of port Anguilla guards who had been aimlessly patrolling the streets asked of a boy who was quickly speeding down the long and winding way.
“I reckon that ain’t none of your business, mate,” retorted Jack Briggs, trying to dash past the two soldiers.
“Ya can’t just pass the queen’s soldiers loike that, ragamuffin!”
“Unless ‘e wants a longer neck, of coorse,” ventured the other, turning to his comrade with a grin.
“I’m here to talk with the governor, ye villains, let me go, by the powers!”
“The gov’ner! It’s his tea party ya’ve been invited to? Or is it the public ‘angin’ more likely?” he raised his eyebrows suggestively to his fellow guard who nodded promptly with a smile.
“I want to speak to ‘im about Iron Ring.”
The guards gasped and the second one took hold of the boy’s free arm.
“It’s in love ‘e must be, orderin’ iron rings! That’s our business, mate, not ‘is. Tell me all aboot it!” the first guard exclaimed excitedly.
“We’ll put a stoip to ‘im, at once,” the second one grinned and shook his head.
“It’s Captain Iron Ring.”
“Oh!” was all the first one said.
“I think I’ve ‘eard that before,” the second fellow whispered slowly and thoughtful like.
Suddenly they both grew preternaturally grave.
“It’s Ferrol, ya mean, boy! We’ve got ta tell the gov’ner!”
“Some one has to stay and guard the street, I reckon,” Briggs suggested, seeing they intended to follow him.
“Right,” the two nodded, and one shoved a rifle in Jack’s hand while the other slipped a red coat over him with a smile, and they both marched off in a hurry.
“I reckon it’s the tavern they went to an’ not the governor,” Jack said in depreciation, letting the things clatter to the stone pavement and running down the street again.
Governor Henry Berth was a tall, middle aged man with a sizable wig, and a thoughtful, stern face. Occasionally it was lit by a kindly smile, a smile which somehow evoked thoughts in the viewer of sad times past. When Jack Briggs burst into his drawing board uninvited the first thing he saw and heard was one of the two guards saying to the governor with a sharp nod, “And that’s exactly, sir, wot I almost said to ‘im. We left ‘im to guard the street in our absence, sir, or we couldn’t ‘av left in good faith, your honour.”
“You appear to have misplaced your faith, sirs,” the governor interrupted half dryly but with a tinge of anxiety. “Or is that lad not the same who is guarding your street so assiduously? I suppose he can give a better account of himself then you gave. Now begone, you two.
“My lad,” he continued gravely when they had gone. “Is it indeed your misfortune to be mixed up with Emil Ferrol?”
“Speakin’ with your leave, sir, it’s none of a misfortune to me: he did me a favour, I reckon, and now I give him my hand as is right an’ natural.” He paused and Berth walked up to him.
“What, then, is your business with me, lad?”
“Sir, it’s not only Captain Ferrol I came to speak of. I reckon you’d not be much inclined to mind hearing that he’s been captured e’en if I told you the de’il himself had done ‘im – and I reckon it’s as close to that as I’ve ever laid eyes on! But, sir, axin leave again; it’s your daughter I came to speak of.”
“Ilse!” Berth’s face underwent strange changes, and then he said in an agitated voice, “Speak on.”
“Well, sir, I came against her when I was, for other reasons, in the cove they call’s,” he lowered his voice and whispered, “Water’s Death.”
The governor paled and interrupted him, “Heaven above! alive, I pray?”
“Yes, I reckon, though I did think her dead at first.”
“But where is she?” the governor asked, relieved yet still agitated, and pacing up and down the room.
“A terrible place, sir,” Jack Briggs said, lowering his voice. “She’s taken by the same man as took Emil Ferrol. A terrible man, sir! with glittering, frightful eyes, a beard black as tar, and a voice fit to resurrect Davy from his locker in the deep.”
Berth’s lips parted, and his eyes dilated. “I recognize that man, boy: with black hair, black hat, and a sword a foot longer than me. His voice…” Berth shivered, breathing hard, and then shook himself as though out of a reverie. “Pardon me, lad,” he said, sighing and sitting on a chair. He buried his head in his hands. “Go on, only you called to mind a spectre of… never mind me, lad, continue if you may.”
“Well sir,” the awed boy went on, “I was only going to add his name, for he took her and the captain in his ship. The mates and his crew called him Captain Bill Wisdom.”
Suddenly the governor tumbled out of his chair and his body fell limply to the ground. Jack Briggs started back.
“Sir! Someone help!” He rushed up and shook the governor, calling for help, and as he did so the glove over the man’s left hand slipped off: and Briggs saw a cruel metal hook in its place with a grinning skull and crossbones embedded deep in its hard side. He gasped a low gasp, but at that moment Berth stirred as the horrified footmen rushed into the room. The governor tried to wave them away.
“It is nothing,” he faltered, his face a deathly pale. “William, hurry to Captain Stil and stop him from setting out if you can. Bid him make way to be prepared to leave at a moment’s notice, however, and tell him I wish to speak to him without delay!”
William hurried away and the footmen hesitantly retreated till Jack Briggs was again alone with the governor. He was leaning heavily upon the table.
“Tell me where he is now, boy.”
Jack Briggs told him of the encounter in the inn and gave him the closest estimate of the position of the pirate’s ship when he left it.
“I pray we may catch the… him, and if we move without delay we may yet. I am very grateful to you, my boy,” he added, handing Briggs a purse of gold.
“Beggin’ your pardon, sir, I don’t want gold; I want to go with you, sir, if I may!”
Governor Berth looked at the ragged boy tiredly and smiled a sad smile.
“Very like,” he said softly. Then he shook himself out of the reverie and moved his jaw in thought. “We will take you with us, then, lad.”
The proud bow of the Gallant cut smoothly through the beautifully blue waves carrying on board Governor Henry Berth, Captain Francis Stil, Jack Briggs, and a large contingent of soldiers and sailors, before the sun of the same day was far up in the sky. The governor stood on the tall foredeck with the captain, the mate, and the boy, his eyes canvassing the horizon with a resolute look; but his eyes were not seeing that horizon – they were focused on a sight he had seen for the last time long, long ago.
“There’s an island sir,” the mate, William Smith, spoke up suddenly.
“I would hardly call it an island, Mr. Smith,” Francis said, stirring slightly. “It is only a harmless looking strand of sand nicknamed Beautiful Death; kin of Water’s Death, I should think. It really is only a coral sandbar, but its coral rocks host dazzling and colourful sea life while at the same time being quite deadly to mariners, in darkness or fog particularly, so it has got itself a horrid name.” He smiled. “I have never seen a single wreck there myself, but we anyhow shall give it a wide berth and the benefit of the doubt, I daresay.”
“Oh! this agony of suspense,” the governor interrupted, “Would that anything might happen, even if it be the danger of a storm and a sandbar, rather than go on so terribly.”
The two men hushed in sympathy and all was quiet. After a long lull Berth said in suppressed excitement, without removing his face from the distant object he thought he had seen, “bring me a spyglass Captain, without delay.”
They all gazed hardly at the horizon while the captain handed his glass to Berth.
“The cut of its jib, the look of its sails…” he muttered to himself, scanning the ship he had caught sight of. “I know it well. Put on all the canvas you have, captain, we must catch that ship and engage it or we shall lose it forever: and Ilse!”
“You shall not find me slack, governor,” he replied, looking at the ship through another spy glass for a second. He then turned and nodded to the mate.
“Captain Stil, it looks to me as though it were at anchorage on the lee side of the sandbar and not fleeing us at all,” Berth said, still keenly examining the distant ship.
“So it would seem!” was the reply, the captain having looked again. “And they are signaling for a parley: run up the signal flags, Mr. Smith, but do not pull up the sheets: never trust a pirate’s truce, Governor Berth.”
“Aye,” answered Berth looking at him peculiarly. “Aye, Captain Stil, I know that well.”
The mate came up at that moment. “They request a parley on the sandbar, sir.”
“Request granted. Tell them three armed men. Pull down the sails and lower a boat, Mr. Copeland,” he added to the second mate. “We shall go the three of us, with your permission, governor,” Stil added, pointing to Briggs and the second mate. “The boy might come in useful – do not protest, governor! I command that you must stay safe.”
“Stand down, Francis Stil,” Berth replied in a cold, hard voice of command. He continued with steely passion, “Until that pirate is dead, you will be entirely under my orders, do you understand?”
Francis retreated askance, his mouth open, entirely taken aback.
“Do you understand, Mr. Stil?!” Berth suddenly roared, his eyes ablaze. He stepped up and threw his glove onto the deck while with his other hand he drew his sword. Placing the hook against Stil’s neck he hissed, “By the powers, Francis Stil, you’ll do as I command.”
Berth face then swiftly became staid once more and he replaced his glove. His voice was normal again when he said, “Captain Stil, will you and Briggs please step into the boat?”
The stunned captain did as bid, and Jack followed. The governor then entered and they set out sharply for the strip of low sand lying before them. Briggs went to the bow and watched as across the beautiful, rippling, bright blue water a gig set out from the other ship, also bearing three figures. Berth looked away as the two boats drew quickly nearer each other. His companions watched him in silence, and the keel soon grated upon the sand.
“Black Mort,” Captain Bill Wisdom, who had already been landed with the giant and Ilse, said in a strange voice; a voice in which sorrow, hatred, remorse, and thoughtfulness were all strangely mixed. He absently twirled an ornate key which he held in his hand. “Do you fear, Black Mort – to behold once more the face of him ye destroyed?”
“Captain… Bill Wisdom,” was the reply, in a slow voice. Berth raised his head slowly and stared at his foe’s fearsome face. His own remained still as marble. “Do you believe I fear you?”
He stood and slowly approached the center of the thin coral shoal, walking on until he stood directly before Captain Wisdom. He looked up in the man’s face with a slight tinge of scorn.
"Or, do you fear me?"
“Or,” he said, and both men’s hands clenched their swords, “do you fear me?”
Both men remained still and cold, until a scream rent the air behind.
“Father!” cried the girl dashing forward, but the giant, Amrud Sarpient, put his hand upon her shoulder.
Ilse jumped forward but the giant put his hand on her shoulder.
Jack Briggs jumped forward but Berth restrained him, and for an instant all was still. Suddenly Bill whirled and placed his sword to the girl’s neck.
“Now d’ye fear?” he cried. “Black Mort, Ilse be in my power. Therefore, Black Mort, ye be in my power. Ye will give me the one thing I command thee.”
Berth did not flinch, and with one hand he restrained Jack.
Again he twirled the key slowly, this time a slight, cruel smile on his lips. But Berth did not flinch; instead he pushed Jack back into the water and replied coldly, but with an irrepressible tremor, “I did it once, Bill, and now you may do it, but I will never give you what you command; nay! End it all Bill! Settle the score forever!”
“The score can never be settled, Black Mort!”
Captain Stil started.
A trickle of blood tainted Ilse‘s clothes and she gasped wildly. Bill tilted his head slowly and looked at Berth, every second his sword slowly drawing nearer: Berth never moved, but his ashen face stared steadily at Bill’s eyes. Then Wisdom pulled back his sword as fast as lightning for a finishing blow! A pistol shot rang out, the sword flew from his hand, and Jack Briggs stumbled coughing out of the clear blue water. Captain Stil, who remained slightly behind the governor, started and his sword flashed from its scabbard. The giant stepped back and dragged the now unconscious and bleeding girl with him. Bill Wisdom turned with a sorrowful yet triumphant smile to Briggs, and only Berth was immovable, but his face had undergone a strange change, and tears dried up in his eyes.
A pistol shot rang out and Jack stumbled out of the water.
“I reckoned I’d fancy you, my little lad,” Bill said, kneeling sadly and looking at the boy wistfully while a balmy breeze blew across his face. He then turned to him who he called Black Mort with a cruel mien. “Behold, you both hold her dear, Black Mort, lie not to me! But, mark my words, I be not as cruel as some – as one.” He said this last word with stony, bitter passion. But he continued sorrowfully, while his eyes grew wet, “I did not come here, Berth, to threaten you daughter, as…” he broke off. Swallowing, he went on, “Ten years' labour I offer you, Black Mort; you! I only request one small thing. Ye know it too well.”
"Ten years' labour I offer you, Black Mort."
Bill Wisdom threw the key he had in his hand into the sand before Governor Henry Berth’s feet. “Take that which ye be loving most; and take your daughter also,” he cried mockingly; but he placed his sword over it. “Swear to me first, Black Mort! Your affy-davy! As ye hope for heaven above when your wretched spirit leaves the denizens of the earth!” He laughed the laugh in which there is no mirth, and he spat into the water. Wisdom moved closer to the still form of Henry Berth. “Swear to me now, Black Mort; or your world will be worse than hell, and your life such that ye shall plead with every god ye ever heard named to slay you on the spot! The black spot, ha!” Bill slapped Berth across the face.
"Take that which ye be loving most!"
“We are in parley, villain!” Captain Francis cried, leaping forward.
“Aye! Ye broke it,” Bill laughed miserably, pointing to Jack, who still held his empty pistol. Then he grasped Berth who still stood as a statue, and shook him terribly, roaring, “Swear, Black Mort, upon your soul!”
There was a silence. Then it was broke by Berth’s calm yet awful voice. “I swear what you wish, Bill Wisdom.” He dashed the arm which held him off like a viper. “Drop my arm, bloody traitor!” He turned round with one last terrible look at Captain Wisdom, and then he marched off to the boat without another word.