I fall into the hands of pirates—How they treated me, and what I said to them—The result
of the whole ending in a melancholy separation and in a most unexpected gift.
 MY heart seemed to leap into my throat at the words; and turning round, I beheld a man of immense
stature and fierce aspect regarding me with a smile of contempt. He was a white man—that is to
say, he was a man of European blood, though his face, from long exposure to the weather, was deeply
bronzed. His dress was that of a common seaman, except that he had on a Greek skull-cap, and wore a
broad shawl of the richest silk round his waist. In this shawl were placed two pairs of pistols and
a heavy cutlass. He wore a beard and moustache, which, like the locks on his head, were short,
curly, and sprinkled with grey hairs.
"So, youngster," he said with a sardonic smile, while I felt his grasp tighten on my shoulder, "the
villains have been balked of their prey, have they? We shall see, we shall see. Now, you whelp, look
yonder." As he spoke, the pirate uttered a shrill whistle. In a second or two it was answered, and
the pirate boat rowed round the point at the Water Garden, and came rapidly towards us. "Now, go,
make a fire on that point; and hark'ee, youngster, if you try to run away,
 I'll send a quick and sure messenger after you," and he pointed significantly at his pistols.
I obeyed in silence, and as I happened to have the burning-glass in my pocket, a fire was speedily
kindled, and a thick smoke ascended into the air. It had scarcely appeared for two minutes when the
boom of a gun rolled over the sea, and looking up, I saw that the schooner was making for the island
again. It now flashed across me that this was a ruse on the part of the pirates, and that they had
sent their vessel away, knowing that it would lead us to suppose that they had left altogether. But
there was no use of regret now. I was completely in their power, so I stood helplessly beside the
pirate watching the crew of the boat as they landed on the beach. For an instant I contemplated
rushing over the cliff into the sea; but this I saw I could not now accomplish, as some of the men
were already between me and the water.
A HEAVY HAND GRASPED MY SHOULDER, AND HELD IT AS IF IN A VISE.
There was a good deal of jesting at the success of their scheme, as the crew ascended the rocks and
addressed the man who had captured me by the title of captain. They were a ferocious set of men,
with shaggy beards and scowling brows. All of them were armed with cutlasses and pistols, and their
costumes were, with trifling variations, similar to that of the captain. As I looked from one to the
other, and observed the low, scowling brows that never unbent, even when the men laughed, and the
mean, rascally expression that sat on each face, I felt that my life hung by a hair.
"But where are the other cubs?" cried one of the men, with an oath that made me shudder. "I'll swear
to it there were three, at least, if not more."
"You hear what he says, whelp: where are the other dogs?" said the captain.
 "If you mean my companions," said I in a low voice, "I won't tell you."
A loud laugh burst from the crew at this answer.
The pirate captain looked at me in surprise. Then drawing a pistol from his belt, he cocked it and
said, "Now, youngster, listen to me. I've no time to waste here. If you don't tell me all you know,
I'll blow your brains out! Where are your comrades?"
For an instant I hesitated, not knowing what to do in this extremity. Suddenly a thought occurred to
"Villain," said I, shaking my clenched fist in his face, "to blow my brains out would make short
work of me, and be soon over; death by drowning is as sure, and the agony prolonged: yet I tell you
to your face, if you were to toss me over yonder cliff into the sea, I would not tell you where my
companions are, and I dare you to try me!"
The pirate captain grew white with rage as I spoke. "Say you so?" cried he, uttering a fierce
oath.—"Here, lads, take him by the legs and heave him in—quick!"
The men, who were utterly silenced with surprise at my audacity, advanced and seized me, and as they
carried me towards the cliff I congratulated myself not a little on the success of my scheme; for I
knew that once in the water I should be safe, and could rejoin Jack and Peterkin in the cave. But my
hopes were suddenly blasted by the captain crying out, "Hold on, lads, hold on! We'll give him a
taste of the thumb-screws before throwing him to the sharks. Away with him into the boat. Look
alive! the breeze is freshening."
The men instantly raised me shoulder high, and hurrying down the rocks, tossed me into the bottom of
the boat, where I lay for some time stunned with the violence of my fall.
 On recovering sufficiently to raise myself on my elbow, I perceived that we were already outside the
coral reef, and close alongside the schooner, which was of small size and clipper built. I had only
time to observe this much, when I received a severe kick on the side from one of the men, who
ordered me, in a rough voice, to jump aboard. Rising hastily, I clambered up the side. In a few
minutes the boat was hoisted on deck, the vessel's head put close to the wind, and the Coral Island
dropped slowly astern as we beat up against a head sea.
Immediately after coming aboard, the crew were too busily engaged in working the ship and getting in
the boat to attend to me, so I remained leaning against the bulwarks close to the gangway, watching
their operations. I was surprised to find that there were no guns or carronades of any kind in the
vessel, which had more the appearance of a fast-sailing trader than a pirate. But I was struck with
the neatness of everything. The brass work of the binnacle and about the tiller, as well as the
copper belaying-pins, were as brightly polished as if they had just come from the foundry. The decks
were pure white, and smooth. The masts were clean-scraped and varnished except at the cross-trees
and truck, which were painted black. The standing and running rigging was in the most perfect order,
and the sails white as snow. In short, everything, from the single narrow red stripe on her low,
black hull to the trucks on her tapering masts, evinced an amount of care and strict discipline that
would have done credit to a ship of the Royal Navy. There was nothing lumbering or unseemly about
the vessel, excepting, perhaps, a boat, which lay on the deck with its keel up between the fore and
main masts. It seemed disproportionately large for the schooner;
 but when I saw that the crew amounted to between thirty and forty men, I concluded that this boat
was held in reserve in case of any accident compelling the crew to desert the vessel.
As I have before said, the costumes of the men were similar to that of the captain. But in head-gear
they differed not only from him but from each other, some wearing the ordinary straw hat of the
merchant service, while others wore cloth caps and red worsted night-caps. I observed that all their
arms were sent below, the captain only retaining his cutlass and a single pistol in the folds of his
shawl. Although the captain was the tallest and most powerful man in the ship, he did not strikingly
excel many of his men in this respect; and the only difference that an ordinary observer would have
noticed was a certain degree of open candour, straightforward daring, in the bold, ferocious
expression of his face, which rendered him less repulsive than his low-browed associates, but did
not by any means induce the belief that he was a hero. This look was, however, the indication of
that spirit which gave him the pre-eminence among the crew of desperadoes who called him captain. He
was a lion-like villain, totally devoid of personal fear, and utterly reckless of consequences, and
therefore a terror to his men, who individually hated him, but unitedly felt it to be to their
advantage to have him at their head.
But my thoughts soon reverted to the dear companions whom I had left on shore, and as I turned
towards the Coral Island, which was now far away to leeward, I sighed deeply, and the tears polled
slowly down my cheeks as I thought that I might never see them more.
"So you're blubbering, are you, you obstinate whelp?"
 said the deep voice of the captain, as he came up and gave me a box on the ear that nearly felled me
to the deck. "I don't allow any such weakness aboard o' this ship. So clap a stopper on your eyes,
or I'll give you something to cry for."
I flushed with indignation at this rough and cruel treatment, but felt that giving way to anger
would only make matters worse, so I made no reply, but took out my handkerchief and dried my eyes.
"I thought you were made of better stuff," continued the captain angrily. "I'd rather have a mad
bulldog aboard than a water-eyed puppy. But I'll cure you, lad, or introduce you to the sharks
before long. Now go below, and stay there till I call you."
As I walked forward to obey, my eye fell on a small keg standing by the side of the main-mast, on
which the word gunpowder was written in pencil. It immediately flashed across me that, as we were
beating up against the wind, anything floating in the sea would be driven on the reef encircling the
Coral Island. I also recollected—for thought is more rapid than the lightning—that my
old companions had a pistol. Without a moment's hesitation, therefore, I lifted the keg from the
deck and tossed it into the sea! An exclamation of surprise burst from the captain and some of the
men who witnessed this act of mine.
Striding up to me, and uttering fearful imprecations, the captain raised his hand to strike me,
while he shouted, "Boy! whelp! what mean you by that?"
"If you lower your hand," said I in a loud voice, while I felt the blood rush to my temples, "I'll
tell you. Until you do so I'm dumb."
The captain stepped back and regarded me with a look of amazement.
 "Now," continued I, "I threw that keg into the sea because the wind and waves will carry it to my
friends on the Coral Island, who happen to have a pistol, but no powder. I hope that it will reach
them soon; and my only regret is that the keg was not a bigger one. Moreover, pirate, you said just
now that you thought I was made of better stuff. I don't know what stuff I am made of—I never
thought much about that subject—but I'm quite certain of this, that I am made of such stuff
as the like of you shall never tame, though you should do your worst."
To my surprise the captain, instead of flying into a rage, smiled, and thrusting his hand into the
voluminous shawl that encircled his waist, turned on his heel and walked aft, while I went below.
Here, instead of being rudely handled, as I had expected, the men received me with a shout of
laughter, and one of them, patting me on the back, said, "Well done, lad! you're a brick, and I have
no doubt will turn out a rare cove. Bloody Bill there was just such a fellow as you are, and he's
now the biggest cut-throat of us all."
"Take a can of beer, lad," cried another, "and wet your whistle after that speech o' your'n to the
captain. If any one o' us had made it, youngster, he would have had no whistle to wet by this time."
"Stop your clapper, Jack," vociferated a third. "Give the boy a junk o' meat. Don't you see he's
a'most going to kick the bucket?"
"And no wonder," said the first speaker with an oath, "after the tumble you gave him into the boat.
I guess it would have broke your neck if you had got it."
I did indeed feel somewhat faint, which was owing, doubtless, to the combined effects of ill-usage
 hunger; for it will be recollected that I had dived out of the cave that morning before breakfast,
and it was now near midday. I therefore gladly accepted a plate of boiled pork and a yam, which were
handed to me by one of the men from the locker on which some of the crew were seated eating their
dinner. But I must add that the zest with which I ate my meal was much abated in consequence of the
frightful oaths and the terrible language that flowed from the lips of these godless men, even in
the midst of their hilarity and good-humour. The man who had been alluded to as Bloody Bill was
seated near me, and I could not help wondering at the moody silence he maintained among his comrades. He did indeed
reply to their questions in a careless off-hand tone, but he never volunteered a remark. The only
difference between him and the others was his taciturnity and his size, for he was nearly, if not
quite, as large a man as the captain.
During the remainder of the afternoon I was left to my own reflections, which were anything but
agreeable; for I could not banish from my mind the threat about the thumb-screws, of the nature and
use of which I had a vague but terrible conception. I was still meditating on my unhappy fate, when,
just after nightfall, one of the watch on deck called down the hatchway—
"Hallo there! one o' you tumble up and light the cabin lamp, and send that boy aft to the
"Now then, do you hear, youngster? the captain wants you. Look alive," said Bloody Bill, raising his
huge frame from the locker on which he had been asleep for the last two hours. He sprang up the
ladder, and I instantly followed him, and going aft was shown into the cabin by one of the men, who
closed the door after me.
A small silver lamp which hung from a beam threw
 a dim, soft light over the cabin, which was a small apartment, and comfortably but plainly
furnished. Seated on a camp-stool at the table, and busily engaged in examining a chart of the
Pacific, was the captain, who looked up as I entered, and in a quiet voice bade me be seated, while
he threw down his pencil, and rising from the table, stretched himself on a sofa at the upper end of
"Boy," said he, looking me full in the face, "what is your name?"
"Ralph Rover," I replied.
"Where did you come from, and how came you to be on that island? How many companions had you on it?
Answer me, now, and mind you tell no lies."
"I never tell lies." said I firmly.
The captain received this reply with a cold, sarcastic smile, and bade me answer his questions.
I then told him the history of myself and my companions from the time we sailed till the day of his
visit to the island, taking care, however, to make no mention of the Diamond Cave. After I had
concluded, he was silent for a few minutes; then looking up, he said, "Boy, I believe you."
I was surprised at this remark, for I could not imagine why he should not believe me. However, I
made no reply.
"And what," continued the captain, "makes you think that this schooner is a pirate?"
"The black flag," said I, "showed me what you are; and if any further proof were wanting, I have had
it in the brutal treatment I have received at your hands."
The captain frowned as I spoke, but subduing his anger he continued, "Boy, you are too bold. I admit
that we treated you roughly, but that was because you made us lose time and gave us a good deal of
 to the black flag, that is merely a joke that my fellows play off upon people sometimes in order to
frighten them. It is their humour, and does no harm. I am no pirate, boy, but a lawful
trader—a rough one, I grant you, but one can't help that in these seas, where there are so
many pirates on the water and such murderous blackguards on the land. I carry on a trade in
sandal-wood with the Feejee Islands; and if you choose, Ralph, to behave yourself and be a good boy,
I'll take you along with me and give you a good share of the profits. You see I'm in want of an
honest boy like you to look after the cabin and keep the log and superintend the traffic on shore
sometimes. What say you, Ralph: would you like to become a sandal-wood trader?"
I was much surprised by this explanation, and a good deal relieved to find that the vessel, after
all, was not a pirate; but, instead of replying, I said, "If it be as you state, then why did you
take me from my island, and why do you not now take me back?"
The captain smiled as he replied, "I took you off in anger, boy, and I'm sorry for it. I would even
now take you back, but we are too far away from it. See, there it is," he added, laying his finger
on the chart, "and we are now here—fifty miles at least. It would not be fair to my men to put
about now, for they have all an interest in the trade."
I could make no reply to this; so, after a little more conversation, I agreed to become one of the
crew—at least, until we could reach some civilised island where I might be put ashore. The
captain assented to this proposition, and after thanking him for the promise, I left the cabin and
went on deck with feelings that ought to have been lighter, but which were, I could not tell why,
marvellously heavy and uncomfortable still.
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