Lost Ships and Lonely Seas/Chapter 10
THE ROARING DAYS OF PIRACY
In Bristowe I left Poll ashore,
Well stocked wi' togs an' gold,
And off I goes to sea for more,
A piratin' so bold.
An' wounded in the arm I got.
An' then a pretty blow;
Come home to find Poll's flowed away,
Yo, ho, with the rum below!
IT was in the early part of the eighteenth century, two hundred years ago, when the merchant voyager ran as great a risk of being taken by pirates as he did of suffering shipwreck. Within a brief period flourished most of the picturesque scoundrels who have some claim to distinction. Blackbeard terrified the Atlantic coast from Boston to Charleston until a cutlass cut him down in 1717. He was a most satisfactory figure of a theatrical pirate, always strutting in the center of the stage, and many others who came later were mere imitations. Robert Louis Stevenson was able to imagine nothing better than Blackbeard's true sea-journal, written with his own wicked hand, which contained such fascinating entries as this:
Such a day, rum all out;—our company somewhat sober;—a damned confusion amongst us! Rogues a-plotting—great talk of separation—so I look sharp for a prize. Took one with a great deal of liquor on board;—so kept the company drunk, damned drunk, then all things went well again.
Captain Avery was plundering the treasure-laden galleons of the Great Mogul off the coast of Madagascar in 1718, and was reported to have stolen a daughter of that magnificent potentate as his bride, while "his adventures were the subject of general conversation in Europe." The flamboyant career of Captain Bartholomew Roberts began in 1719, that "tall, dark man" whose favorite toast was "Damnation to him who lives to wear a halter," and who always wore in action a rich crimson damask waistcoat and breeches, a red feather in his hat, a gold chain and diamond cross around his neck, a sword in his hand, and two pairs of pistols hanging at the ends of a silk sling flung over his shoulder.
In this same year Captain Ned England was taking his pick of the colonial merchantmen which were earning a respectable livelihood in the slave-trade of the Guinea coast. He displayed his merry and ingenious spirit by ordering his crew to pelt to death with broken rum-bottles a captured shipmaster whose face and manners displeased him. Mary Read, the successful woman pirate, was then in the full tide of her exploits and notably demonstrated that a woman had a right to lead her own life. When her crew presumed to argue with her, she pistoled them with her own fair hand, and neatly killed in a duel a rash gentleman pirate who had been foolish enough to threaten her lover. When asked why she preferred a vocation so hazardous, Mary Read replied that "as to hanging, she thought it no great hardship, for were it not for that every cowardly fellow would turn pirate and so infest the seas and men of courage would starve."
It was in the same period that the bold Captain John Quelch of Marblehead stretched hemp, with five of his comrades, and a Salem poet was inspired to write:
Ye pirates who against God's laws did fight.
Have all been taken which is very right.
Some of them were old and others young
And on the flats of Boston they were hung.
In 1724 two notorious sea-rovers, Nutt and Phillip, were cruising off Cape Ann within sight of Salem harbor's mouth. They took a sloop commanded by one Andrew Harraden, and thereby caught a Tartar. Harraden and his sailors erupted from the hold into which they had been flung, killed Nutt and Phillip and their officers, tossed the rest of the rascals down below, and sailed into Boston Harbor, where their cargo of pirates speedily furnished another entertainment for the populace that trooped to the row of gibbets on the flats of the town. The old sea-chronicles of New England are filled with episodes of these misfortunes, encounters, and escapes until the marvel grows that the seamen of those quaint brigs, ketches, and scows could be persuaded to set out from port at all. The appalling risk became a habit, no doubt, just as the people of to-day dare to use the modern highway on which automobiles slay many more victims than ever the pirates made to walk the plank.
The experience of an unlucky master mariner in that era of the best-known and most successful pirates may serve to convey a realization of the gamble with fortune which overshadowed every trading voyage when the perils of the deep were so cruel and so manifold. And it is easy to comprehend why the bills of lading included this petition, "And so God send the good sloop to her desired port in safety. Amen."
In the year of 1718 the Bird galley sailed from England in command of Captain Snelgrave to find a cargo of slaves on the coast of Sierra Leone. The galley, as sailors then used the term, was a small, square-rigged vessel not unlike a brig, although properly the name belonged to craft propelled by oars as well as sails; but seamen in all ages have had a confusing habit of mixing the various classifications of vessels. It was nothing against the character of Captain Snelgrave that he was bound out to the Gold Coast in the rum and nigger trade. The ship-chandlers of Liverpool made special displays in their windows of handcuffs, leg-shackles, iron collars, short and long chains, and furnaces and copper kettles designed for slave- ships. The English Missionary Society owned a plantation and worked it with slaves. In America the New England colonies took the lead in the slave-trade, and the enterprising lads of the coastwise ports sought berths in the forecastles of the African traders because of the chance of profit and promotion. It was not held to the discredit of John Paul Jones that he learned seamanship before the mast in the slaver King George before he hoisted the first naval ensign of the United States above the quarter-deck of an American man-of-war.
No sooner had the Bird galley dropped anchor in the river of Sierra Leone than three pirate ships came bowling in with a fair breeze. They had been operating together and had already captured ten English vessels. Captain Snelgrave eyed these unpleasant visitors with suspicion, but hoped they might be on the same errand as himself. At eight o'clock in the evening, however, he heard the measured thump of oars and descried the shadow of an approaching boat. The first mate was ordered to muster and arm twenty men on deck in readiness to repel boarders. The second mate hailed the boat and was answered; "The ship Two Friends of Barbadoes., Captain Elliott." This failed to satisfy the master of the Bird galley, and he shouted to the boat to sheer off and keep clear.
A volley of musket-balls was the reply from the boat, and the first mate of the Bird was told to return the fire. His men stood idle, however, and it transpired that he cherished secret ambitions of being a pirate himself and had won over several of the crew. This was extremely embarrassing for Captain Snelgrave, who was compelled to witness the marauders scramble unresisted up the side of his vessel. The leader of the pirates was in a particularly nasty temper because the mate had been ordered to open fire, and he poked a pistol into the captain's face and pulled trigger. As quick as he was courageous, the skipper knocked the weapon aside, and was promptly felled with the butt of it. Dodging along the deck, the pirate boatswain swung at him with a broadsword and missed his mark, the blade biting- deep into the oaken rail.
There was a grain of spunk left in the crew of the Bird, and they rushed upon the evil boatswain before he could kill the captain. For this behavior they were mercilessly slashed with cutlasses, kicked and cursed, and then trussed in a row. With a touch of ferocious whimsicality the pirate chief declared that he would let Captain Snelgrave be tried by his own crew. If they had any complaints to make of him as a shipmaster, he would be swung to a yard, and they should haul the rope. He must have been a just and humane man, for not a sailor voiced a grudge, and the ruffians appeared to forget all about murder. After firing volleys to let their ships know that a prize had been captured, they turned with tremendous enthusiasm to the business of guzzling and feasting.
The captive sailors were released, and told to dress all the hens, ducks, and geese that were in the coops on deck; but no sooner were the heads chopped off than these childish blackguards refused to have supper delayed. The Bird carried a huge furnace, or oven, contrived for cooking the food of the five hundred slaves which were expected aboard. Into a roaring fire the pirates flung the hens, ducks, and geese, feathers and all, and hauled them out as soon as they were singed and scorched. The same culinary method was employed for half a dozen Westphalia hams and a sow with a dozen little pigs. A few finicky pirates commanded the ship's cook, under pain of death, to boil the meat in the great copper caldrons designed for the slaves' porridge.
The prodigious banquet made these unmannerly guests feel in better humor, and they even told their surgeon to dress the wounds of the Bird's sailors. They amused themselves by playing foot-ball with Captain Snelgrave's excellent gold watch, and drank themselves into a state of boisterous joviality. The old record puts it mildly, to say the least, in affirming that "the captain's situation was by no means an agreeable one, even under these circumstances, as ferocious men are generally capricious. He now fared very hard, enduring great fatigue with patience, and submitting resignedly to the Almighty will."
Before the wild night ended he was taken aboard the pirates' flagship, where he was questioned by a sort of commodore or commander-in-chief of the squadron. His name was Cocklyn, and he had ambitions to conduct operations on a scale even larger. He wanted to win over the Bird's crew and to fly his black pennant from her, as his talk disclosed, and this was why the lives of her company had been spared. Now occurred one of those romantic incidents which the novelist would hesitate to invent as stretching the probabilities, but in these ancient narratives of the sea things were set down as they actually happened. This is how the story was written in 1724:
Griffin now obtained a bowl of punch and led the way to the cabin, where a carpet was spread to sit upon, as the pirate ship was always kept clear for action. They sat down cross-legged, and Cocklyn, the chief captain, drank Snelgrave's health, saying his crew had spoken well of him. A hammock was slung for Captain Snelgrave at night, by the intercession of Griffin, but the pirates lay rough, as they styled it, because their vessel, as already observed, was always cleared for action.Griffin, true to his promise of guarding his old school-fellow while asleep, kept near the captain's hammock, sword in hand, to protect him from insults. Towards morning, while the pirates were carousing on deck, the boatswain came toward the hammock in a state of intoxication, swearing that he would slice the captain for ordering the crew to fire, dragged him from his hammock, and would, no doubt, have executed his savage threat if it had not been for Griffin who, as the boatswain pressed forward to stab the sleeping Captain Snelgrave, cut at the fellow with his sword and after a sharp struggle succeeded in beating him off. At length the wretches fell asleep and the captain was no longer molested. Griffin next day complained of the boatswain's conduct and he was threatened with a whipping. However, Captain Snelgrave wisely pleaded for him, by saying he was in liquor.
Shielded from harm by this lawless, but devoted, old school-mate of his, the master of the Bird galley was in no great danger of being sliced by some impulsive pirate who was careless with a cutlass. His perfidious first mate and ten of the sailors now signed on as pirates and assisted the others in ransacking Captain Snelgrave's unfortunate ship. Such merchandise as did not happen to please their fancy was pitched overboard, and they saved little more than the provisions, the clothing, and the gold coin. They were like a gang of hoodlums on a lark, and wanton destruction was their very stupid idea of a pastime. This wild carnival went on for several days. Barrels of claret and brandy were hoisted on deck, the heads knocked in, and the drink baled out with cans and buckets until the roisterers could hold not another swallow. Then they doused one another with buckets of claret and good French brandy as they ran roaring around the deck.
Bottled liquors were opened by whacking off the necks with cutlasses. They pelted one another with cheeses, and emptied the tubs of butter to slide in. One of these sportive pirates dressed himself in the captain's shore-going black suit and his best hat and wig, strutted among his comrades until they drenched him with claret, and then chucked the wardrobe overboard. You will be gratified to learn that "this man, named Kennedy, ended his career in Execution Dock."
Of the two other pirate ships then in the river of Sierra Leone one was British and the other French. The English commander was one of the brave and resourceful sea-rogues of his era, a fighting seaman in whom survived the spirit of those desperate adventurers of the seventeenth century who followed Morgan to Panama and hunted the stately Spanish galleons with Hawkins and Dampier in the waters of the Pacific. This was the famous Captain Davis, who would sooner storm a fort or take a town at the head of a landing party than to loot a helpless merchantman. He had attempted to combine forces with these other pirates at Sierra Leone and had been formally elected admiral in a council of war. But he found reason to suspect the good faith of his associates, whereupon he summoned them into his cabin and told them to their faces:
"Hear ye, you Cocklyn and La Boise" (the French captain), I find that by strengthening you I have put a rod into your hands to whip myself, but I am able to deal with you both. However, since we met in love let us part in love, for I find that three of a trade can never agree long together.
Captain Davis was getting ready for a cruise on his own account, with the design of attacking the garrison of one of the Portuguese settlements on the African coast, but he found time to interest himself in the affairs of poor Captain Snelgrave of the Bird galley. It may have been a spark of genuine manliness and sportsmanship, or dislike of the slippery Cocklyn, but at any rate Captain Davis interceded in his own high-handed manner and told the rascals to give the plundered Bird back to her master and to treat him decently.
This altered the situation. Captain Davis was the king wolf of the pack, and his bite was much worse than his bark. Cocklyn and La Boise were disposed to resent this interference and hung back a little, at which the black flag was run up to the masthead of Captain Davis's formidable ship, and the gun-ports were dropped with a clatter to show a crew, disciplined and sober, with matches lighted, and handspikes and tackles ready.
Very promptly the Bird galley was restored to Captain Snelgrave, but before going to sea Captain Davis was rowed ashore for a farewell chat with a friend of his named Glynn. This man was living at Sierra Leone for reasons unknown, probably in trade of some kind, and the only information concerning him is that "although he had suffered from pirates, he was on good terms with them and yet kept his hands free from their guilt." He must have been a two-fisted person with a backbone of steel, for Captain Davis was satisfied to intrust to his care the broken fortunes of the master of the Bird galley.
Soon after the tall ship of Captain Davis was wafted seaward with the breeze that drew off the land, the pirates twain, Cocklyn and La Boise, were invited to dinner at the house of Captain Glynn. The other guest was Captain Snelgrave, who discovered that the wind had suddenly shifted in his favor and he was treated with the most distinguished cordiality and respect. Fresh clothing was offered him, and he enjoyed the luxury of one of Captain Glynn's clean shirts. It was explained that the Bird was uncommonly well adapted for fitting out as a pirate ship because she had flush decks for mounting guns and was sharply molded for fast sailing. Cocklyn and La Boise politely suggested that they keep her for their own use and give to Captain Snelgrave a merchant vessel of larger tonnage which had been recently captured. By way of making amends for their rudeness, they would be delighted to replace his ruined cargo with merchandise taken from other prizes, and he could take his pick of the stuff.
This was a delicate problem for Captain Snelgrave to decide. The ethical codes of the pirates were so much more unconventional than his own that they failed to see why he should hesitate to sail home to England in a stolen ship with a cargo of looted merchandise. Tactfully, but firmly, he declined the offer, at which they hopefully suggested that he might change his mind and, anyhow, they would do their best to straighten things out for him. It was a pleasant little dinner party, but it is plausible to infer that the thought of the absent Captain Davis hung over it like a grim shadow.
Next day the abandoned merchantman which had been offered to Captain Snelgrave was towed alongside the Bird galley, and all of his cargo that had escaped destruction was transferred by his own crew. There was a good deal of it, after all, for it had consisted largely of salted provisions and bolts of cloth for the slave market, and the wanton pirates had tired of the game before they got into the lower holds. Captain Snelgrave moved ashore and found a comfortable refuge in the house of Captain Glynn.
Retribution now overtook that truculent pirate, the boatswain, who had first attempted to blow out the brains of Captain Snelgrave and then to slice him in his hammock. He fell very ill of tropical fever and rum, and realizing that he had come to the end of his cable, he sent for the skipper and implored forgiveness. It is solemnly recorded that "this man fell into a delirium the same night and died before the morning, cursing God his maker in such a frightful manner that it affected several of the pirates who were yet novices in that mode of life, and they came privately, in consequence, to obtain Captain Snelgrave's advice how they should get out of their evil course. A proclamation of pardon had been issued to all pirates who surrendered before July 1, 1719, and the captain advised them to embrace the pardon so tendered."
Still refusing to accept the gift of a purloined ship, the captain persuaded the pirates to remove all his cargo ashore, which they cheerfully did and built a shelter to cover it. Then they busied themselves at the task of arming the Bird for their own wicked use, and were amazingly sober and industrious for as much as a fortnight. When they were ready to put the ship into commission. Captain Snelgrave was invited aboard to a jollification in his own cabin. There was a certain etiquette to be followed, it seemed, and the observance was punctilious. Toasts were drunk to a lucky cruise, and every man smashed his glass upon the table or floor. The ship was renamed the Windham Galley, and they all trooped out on deck and waved their hats and huzzaed when the Jolly Roger broke out of stops and showed aloft like a sinister blot against the clean sky from the mast which had displayed the British ensign. The new batteries were fired in salute, with a great noise and clouds of gunpowder smoke, and then, of course, all hands proceeded to get most earnestly drunk though they laid no violent hands upon Captain Snelgrave.
The ships were still in the harbor when the redoubtable Captain Davis came sailing in from his voyage. It had been shorter than expected, for rich booty was overtaken at sea, and he delayed the adventure with the Portuguese fort until he could dispose of his profits and refit. First, he had laid alongside two English and one Scotch ship and lifted out of them such goods as attracted his fancy, permitting them to proceed. A few days later the lookout aloft sighted a sail and, in the words of the record, "it may be proper to inform our readers that, according to the laws of pirates, the man who first discovers a sail is entitled to the best pair of pistols in the ship and such is the honor attached to these that a pair of them has been known to sell for thirty pounds."
Captain Davis chased this tempting ship until she drove ashore and the terrified crew took to the jungle. She proved to be a gorgeous prize, a heavily armed packet, "having on board the Governor of Acra, with all his substance, going to Holland. There was in her money to the amount of fifteen thousand pounds, besides a large quantity of merchant goods and other valuable articles." This ship had the men and guns to have stood up to it and given Captain Davis a battle royal, but the sight of his evil flag, and perhaps his own bloody repute, made cowards of them. It was quite otherwise with another Dutchman overhauled soon after this. These stolid seamen had the proverbial tenacity of their race, and they scorned the notion of hauling down colors at the sight of a scurvy pirate. To the insolent summons they replied with a broadside and killed nine surprised pirates, who were smelling brimstone in another world before they realized how it happened.
Excessively annoyed, Captain Davis closed in, and soon found that he had a hard nut to crack. With thirty guns and ninety men the Dutchman stood him off, and they fought a stubbornly heroic sea action that lasted from one o'clock at noon until after daylight next morning, occasionally hauling off for rest and repairs and tackling each other again, hammer and tongs. Finally the Dutchman had to strike, for he was outfought by men better drilled and practised. Captain Davis respected their valor, and there was no mention of making them walk the plank. The fifty survivors were taken aboard his own ship to save their lives, for their own ship was so smashed and splintered that she sank soon after.
Reaching Sierra Leone, Captain Davis invited Captain Snelgrave aboard for supper in order to learn how affairs had been going with him. At the end of a successful cruise, the cutthroats had to be handled with a loose rein. They expected a grand carouse as a matter of course, and such a leader as Captain Davis was wise enough to close his eyes until he was ready to put the screws on again and prepare for another adventure. Most of the ship's company were properly drunk when the alarm of fire was shouted. A lighted lantern had been overturned among the rum-casks, and the flames were running into the hold. Amid the shouting and confusion, the sober men tumbled into boats and pulled for the shore. The fire was eating straight toward the magazine, in which were stowed thirty thousand pounds of gunpowder.
One pirate, who was both astonishingly brave and sober, dropped through a hatchway, groped through the smoke, and yelled that unless they fetched him blankets and buckets of water the ship would blow up. Captain Snelgrave gathered all the rugs and blankets he could find and rushed below to join the fellow. Other men rallied when led by Captain Davis, and formed a bucket brigade to douse the blankets and stuff them against the bulkhead of the magazine. It was a ticklish situation, taking it by and large,
Fifty of the crew crawled out upon the bowsprit and sprit-sail yard, where they clung and hoped to be blown clear of the general upheaval. They handsomely deserved extermination, but a dozen gallant volunteers still toiled and suffered in the hold, and at length they smothered the fire before it ate into the magazine. All of them were terribly burned, and it is fair to assume that Captain Davis awarded them an extra share of the plunder when it was distributed. One of the heroes of the crisis was Captain Snelgrave, or so the pirates admiringly agreed, and they were more than ever anxious to befriend him. They would have been glad to serve under him, but he had no taste for piracy and declined the honor when a vote was passed around the tubs of grog that he go as a sailing master until he had gained experience and was ready to command a crew of gentlemen of fortune.
Disappointed in this, they used their gold to buy back for him a considerable amount of his cargo, which had been divided or sold ashore, and presented him with some of the merchandise allotted to them from the ships lately captured by Captain Davis. There were worse pirates on the high seas than this collection of gallows-birds in the harbor of Sierra Leone, and merchant mariners much less admirable than this London slave-trader, Captain Snelgrave. Thanks to the exertions of the solicitous pirates, he gathered together sufficient possessions to retrieve the voyage from complete disaster, and the stuff was saved from harm in the rough warehouse ashore, where the kindly Captain Glynn was a vigilant guardian.
The pirates were now ready to depart on their disreputable business, Cocklyn and La Boise sailing in company, while Captain Davis ranged off alone. This time he carried out his purpose of raiding the Portuguese colony, the military governor of which received warning from a coasting vessel and accordingly strengthened his defenses and armed every able-bodied man. Captain Davis led his pirates from their boats and stormed the fort under a heavy fire.
The Portuguese governor was a fighting man himself and he gave as good as he took. The pirates gained the parapet and set the wooden buildings afire with hand grenades, but while the issue wavered. Captain Davis fell, a pistol-ball in his stomach. In a hand-to-hand conflict his pirates were driven back to the beach, carrying their dying captain with them. Defeated, they left their dead and wounded and fled in the boats, while in the last gasp Captain Davis discharged both his pistols at the enemy. "And those on board the ship, who expected to hoist in treasure, had to receive naught but their wounded comrades and dead commander."
Captain Snelgrave, left free to work out his own plans, loaded his cargo into one of the vessels which the pirates had abandoned in the river. He was shrewd enough to know that he could not be accused of receiving a stolen ship, for maritime usage now protected him. He was taking possession of a derelict and sailing her home, where he could make terms of sale or salvage with her rightful owners. And so he mustered as many of his crew as had not been lured away by the pirates, and said good-by to his loyal friend Captain Glynn, and took on board six other masters of ships who were stranded at Sierra Leone because they had been unlucky enough to fall in with Cocklyn and La Boise and Captain Davis. On August 1, in the year 1719, Captain Snelgrave dropped anchor in the port of Bristol and trudged ashore to find a pleasant haven in a tavern and tell his troubles to other sun-browned skippers who knew the Guinea coast and the hazards of the slave-trade.
A different kind of fortune was that of Captain George Roberts, who sailed from Virginia for the Guinea coast in the year of 1721. Pirates overtook his sloop off the Cape Verd Islands, and at first treated him rather good-humoredly, as he was a man of spirit and could hold his own when the bottle was passed. The pirate captain took a fancy to him and had a mind to let him resume his voyage, but unluckily the health of the "Old Pretender," James III, was proposed at table, and Captain Roberts, who was no Jacobite, roundly refused to drink such a damnable toast. He did not purpose to bend his sentiments to suit the fancy of any pirates that ever sailed unhung. One of them was for shooting him through the head, but to the others it seemed more entertaining to put him aboard his own vessel without provisions, water, or sails, and to kidnap his crew as well, and let him drift out to sea. Captain Roberts listened to the discussion and had nothing more to say. He would drink the health of a king of his own choosing if it cost him his skin, and that was the end of it.
The old chronicler who preserved the tale of this stubborn sea-dog took occasion to moralize in this fashion:
In the dead of night the sloop was cast off, and the pirates even pilfered all the candles to make matters as uncomfortable as possible. Two boys of the sloop's crew had been left on board, one of them an infant of eight years, and it may have accorded with the piratical style of humor to call this a complement. The eight-year-old urchin was perhaps a cabin-boy; no other information is vouchsafed concerning him. At any rate, he must have turned to like a little man, for he took the wheel while the captain and the elder boy pumped to clear the leaky vessel of water. Fairly confident that she would stay afloat, they took stock at daylight, and found that the pirates had overlooked a few crumbs of bread, ten gallons of rum, a little rice, and some flour, with a two-gallon jug of water. They were unable to kindle a fire because the jocular pirates had carried off the flint and steel, and so they lived on raw flour and rice and drank rum after the water gave out.
Three days' hard labor sufficed to patch up a sail that pulled the sloop along when the wind blew hard enough. Rain fell and gave them a little more water before they died of thirst. A shark was caught when the food had all been eaten and they lived for three weeks before sighting land again. This was the Isle of St. Anthony, in the Cape Verd group, and the elder boy begged to be allowed to go ashore in the boat and look for water.
He pulled away after sunset and, with the anchor down, Captain Roberts dragged himself into the cabin and was instantly asleep. Rousing out at midnight, there was no sign of the boat and, to his dismay, he discovered that the sloop had drifted almost out of sight of land with a strong night wind. His crew now consisted of the eight-year-old mite of a sailor lad, but they swung on the pump together and tugged at the windlass until the anchor was hove short. They tended the rag of sail, and a kindly breeze slowly wafted them back toward the island until they were able to drop the mud-hook in a sandy bay with a good holding-ground. Captain Roberts was a stalwart man, and hats off to his eight-year-old crew!
The other boy who had rowed ashore was anxiously looking for the vessel, and he appeared aboard with a gang of negroes whom he had hired to work her into the nearest port. They brought food and water with them, and affairs seemed to have taken an auspicious turn, but during the first night out the sail split from top to bottom. There was no other canvas to set, and the negroes promptly tumbled into the boat and made for the island. The voyage appealed to their simple intellects as very much of a failure. Captain Roberts sighed, and resumed the interminable task of finding a haven for his helpless sloop. His two boys did what they could, but they were completely worn out and unable to help rig up another sail of bits of awning, tarpaulins, and so on, and bend it to the spars.
Captain Roberts was inclined to believe that he had played his last card, but one is quite unable to fancy him as regretting his quixotic refusal to join a party of Jacobite pirates in toasting the Pretender. When another day came, he was grimly hanging to the tiller and trying to keep the sloop's head in the direction of land when he heard a commotion in the hold. One of the lads plucked up courage to peer over the hatch-coaming, and in the gloom he descried three negroes in a very bad temper who were holding their heads in their hands. Ordered on deck, they anxiously rolled their eyes, and explained that they had found the puncheon of rum soon after coming on board and hadit so earnestly that they sneaked below to sleep it off. Their comrades had deserted the ship in the darkness, and Captain Roberts, assuming that all hands were quitting him, had not counted them.
Here was a crew provided by a sort of unholy miracle, and they were ready to help take the ship to port to save their own perfectly worthless lives. They managed to carry her close to a harbor called St. John's, and one of the black rascals declared that he was an able pilot; but when the vessel drew close to the rocks he lost his courage and dived overboard, whereupon his comrades followed him, and all swam ashore like fishes. The afflicted Captain Roberts let go his anchor and waited through the night, after which other natives came off to the sloop and brought fresh provisions and water. It seemed as if their troubles might be nearing an end, but a storm blew next day, and the sloop went upon the rocks. Captain Roberts and the two lads were rescued by the kindly natives, who swam out through the raging surf, but the sloop was soon dashed to pieces. She deserved to win a happier fortune.
The voyage to the Guinea coast was ruined, and Captain Roberts had no money to back another venture; but he set about building a boat from the wreck of his sloop, and made such a success of it that with the two lads and three negro sailors he was soon doing a brisk trade from island to island. Having accumulated some cash, he decided to return to London, where he arrived after an absence of four years.