HOW WE BEHEADED THE HYDRA
 WELL had it been for some of those maniacal men if they had but let the fiery water alone, for
when the fumes had mounted to their heads the rashest of them conceived a plan to destroy
all that were on board our vessel. I need not say that we had been attracted by the noises
and the bedevilments ashore, for nothing else could we do but gather at the rail and watch
the goings on in silence and amaze. It did not occur to us, however, that there might be a
termination to the revel immediately disastrous to ourselves until I noted some of the
pirates gathering in a group apart from the main body, who were mostly lying
 on the sands. These were, to be sure, unsteady on their legs; but the more unsteady they
became the more they seemed possessed by fierce desire to carry out the promptings of
their evil minds.
It did not astound me at all to see among them my friend of the duel fight, nor to see him
point at our vessel now and again most menacingly; nor yet again that he soon formed a
nucleus for a body of men that all at once started on a run for the shore. They tumbled
into a long boat that was drawn up on, the sands, and while some pushed it off afloat
others took their places at the oars. They were not so drunk that they had not
precautioned to take with them their cutlasses and some few their arquebuses. Indeed, they
never even slept without these arms either strapped about them or within reach; and it
were perhaps superfluous to say that they were armed to the teeth. A few strokes of the
oars brought their boat alongside, when it became evident what was their
intention-  —namely, to carry the vessel by boarding and perhaps murder us all in cold blood.
But, methinks, we should have well deserved our fate had we been idle all this time and
allowed them to take us unawares. As soon as the groups had begun to collect my uncle said
to me in a low tone: "Son Humphrey, there is mischief brewing; go thou to the mate and
tell him to call all hands on deck—if they are not already up—and arm them,
every man and boy."
This was the first direct speech he had had with me since our estrangement; but a common
danger caused us to come together, at least temporarily, and there was no difference of
opinion now. By the time the pirates had brought their boat under the "Nancy's" quarter
every one of our crew was crouched behind the bulwarks, each with an arm of some sort in
his grasp, and each resolved to sell his life, if need be, dearly.
Whatever may be said of our foes, it cannot be told that they were in any sort cowards,
 though, in sooth, some of them may have had what our sailors satirically called "Dutch
courage" from imbibing of the ardent water. They hesitated not in climbing up the side of
the vessel, each man with a cutlass between his teeth and a pistol in his belt. Their base
intention was evident enough, but my uncle would not take any mean advantage,
nevertheless, and as the head of the first man appeared above the rail he hailed and
demanded the meaning of this visit.
The pirate spluttered something between a curse and a threat—his speech greatly
distorted on account of the blade between his lips—and my uncle then hailed again,
this time with temper, saying that the first man that came over the rail would be killed
instanter. So there was no mistake as to his meaning then, and, if the object of the
pirates was misinterpreted, they had opportunity for retreat. It cannot be said of us that
we took any mean advantage of the foe, but, when it became only too evident what the real
 intention was, we no longer hesitated in our attack.
With one mighty sweep my uncle lopped off the head of the pirate who first appeared in
sight, and it fell into the water, with his cutlass still clenched in his teeth: a most
grewsome sight, that distorted countenance with the blade across it as it was lapped by
the waves ere it disappeared beneath them! So fierce was this man's nature, so determined,
that his clenched hands held to the ropes he had grasped for a full minute, I should
think, before the headless trunk to which they were attached finally plunged after the
gory, ghastly head.
I was gazing straight into his face ere it all happened, and was for a moment transfixed
with horror to the spot on which I stood. But for a moment only, for the time had come for
action. Despite this rude rebuff, the man's companions came swarming over the
rail—how I know not., but they came, one after the other—until some half
 score of them had dropped to the decks and were fighting back to back.
I had no stomach for the battle at first; nor, indeed, ever had I desire to fight with any
one; but here was I forced again, despite my inclination, to defend my life in dire
extremity. There was no time for thought, however; action was the cry. My companions were
already at it, hammer and tongs, as the saying is, and if we would win we should be
obliged to fight to the utmost. So at it I went, firing my pistol at the foremost man that
came at me, and then throwing the weapon—there being no time to reload—into
the face of the next one. Shifting, then, my cutlass from left hand to right, I sprang
into the thick of it—to my shame, perhaps, be it said, with increasing joy—and
laid about me on all sides without discrimination.
MY UNCLE LOPPED OFF THE HEAD OF THE PIRATE.
There was no individual foe to fight, only one great hydra-headed monster to cut and whack
at, which seemed then the chief end of my being. I remember that, in the midst of it all,
 I recalled the fabled Hydra of Greek history, and imagined myself another Hercules. Such
vagaries do possess one when he is in straits, even showing that the mind and body are two
independent things, quite apart and dual in their nature.
Do not imagine that I would arrogate to myself all the glories of this fight, because I
was but one unit in a dozen, each one doing as much as I, perhaps more than I was doing.
But I am sure each man and boy of our crew felt the same: that his existence was at stake,
and though a short time before life did not seem worth a purchase, still it should be sold
Short-sighted human beings that we were. Granted we won a victory, what then? Still were
we captives of pirates, even if we slew all then opposed to us. It were of a verity, a
labor of Hercules with his hundred-headed monster. But we were not then speculating as to
our future: the living present was straight in front of us.
 We fought, then, as fiends, though I later may have indulged in speculation as a
philosopher, I was callous to what hurt I caused the monsters, and the more the blood
flowed the more exasperated I became, whether it were blood of friend or foe. A spasm of
horror convulsed me as a burly pirate cut down our cook's assistant, a mere boy, with blue
eyes and flaxen hair, a frail form, but with a spirit big enough to fill the frame of man.
In an instant I pictured his mother's grief when she should know—if ever—what
had befallen her darling; his sister's despair, his father's impotent rage; for he was a
not distant neighbor of my family at home, and, like myself, had come on this voyage as
for a pleasure trip.
One vast, complex emotion swept through me, and I dashed myself against the man who had
done the deed as if he, and he only, were in front of me. Here, at last, was the monster,
and I hacked at him with cutlass until he, too, seemed to realize that there was no other
foe than the
 stripling in front of him. He withdrew his blade, all reeking with the blood of that fair
boy, and turned upon me with a howl like that of a wolf. I laughed at him as he made for
me, so crazed was I with the exultation born of combat. I no longer had a life to
lose—only a cause to defend. By some chance I secured a position astride the body of
the boy, as he lay there motionless upon the bloody deck, and the resolve that possessed
me was that not all the world of furies should move me from that spot.
Well, why tell of what happened after that? Does not the fact that I am alive to write of
the adventure prove that I survived? The others? Ah, well, the half of us were slain, and
nearly all, including my uncle, were most sorely wounded. It was miraculous, perhaps, that
I, almost alone, escaped without a cut; but so it was.
Did I slay the man who cut down the boy? It must have been, but I have no recollection of
it. I remember his onslaught, that he bore
 heavily upon me, breathing his fetid breath in my face, and that I thrust him back,
hacking at him with utmost loathing. And after he had fallen—for he soon had plunged
heavily forward amongst the heap of slain—I found myself still standing over the
body of the boy. Well it was for me that the fight that moment ceased, for as I stooped to
raise the poor fellow from the deck I presented a most fair mark for a foe. But, though I
realized it not, the horrid din still ringing in my ears—the shouts, oaths, clash
and swish of cutlasses, and the crash of pistol-shots—the combat had really ceased.
We had won, that was apparent, if one had life left to observe, for a few of us were still
standing, while of the foe not one was on his legs. Whether we had killed all, or some
made their escape, I did not ask, nor did I care, for I was absorbed in the youth I had
rescued. I raised him from the deck and bore him gently to a coil of rope near the rail,
where he could half recline and the better discharge the blood that welled
 up through his mouth. For he was living—to my joy I noted that—though weak and
unconscious from the loss of blood.
Then was I overcome with anguish at sight of this fair lad sore smitten there. For the
first time my tears began to fall. Think me not craven or faint-hearted; but, indeed, the
strain of the fight had told on me. Perhaps it was not cowardly to weep, after all, for my
tears were forced by the sight of another's sufferings. At all events, I wept, and, while
still blinded by my tears, stumbled upon a recumbent figure, as I rose to go for water
with which to bathe the lad's face.
It was my uncle, prostrate, his face all bloody, his right hand pressed against his
breast. Then my heart gave a great leap, and I was smitten with a pang more acute than I
had ever felt. Remorse, as well as anguish, seized upon me then, for in a moment I
realized how resentful I had felt toward him, and now it might be too late to crave his
pardon! I knelt and
 placed my ear to his heart. It still beat, and he was still alive, thank God!
I ran to the water cask, filled the nearest vessel and hastened back to my patients twain.
I washed the blood from their faces, forced a little water between the lips of each, and
had the happiness to see them open their eyes. The boy recovered first to that extent,
then my uncle; but neither spake for a while, for the blood that filled their throats.
As I was kneeling between them, striving to stanch the flow of blood from their wounds,
first working upon one and then upon the other, I noted finally a look of strained
intensity in my uncle's eyes, and glancing upward saw the figure of a buccaneer standing
over me. He was evidently a new arrival, at all events some one who had not taken part in
The moon was at the full, and everything was clearly visible. Rising to an erect posture,
I turned an enquiring gaze upon the intruder, then resumed the work which he had
 as he said nothing, and my labor was important.
The man was tall and broad-shouldered, his form being burly rather than athletic or well
knit; his face was dark and strong, with black and piercing eyes, a hooked nose, and small
mustachios adorning his upper lip. His hair was black and abundant, flowing over the
collar of his doublet. His dress was richer than that of the average buccaneer, denoting
somewhat of authority, which indeed his manner confirmed. That he was somebody high in
command I did not doubt; neither did I care. For the die had been cast, the fight fought
out, and if we were still in the pirates' hands—as undoubtedly we were—what
use to borrow trouble?
"Well, my lad," spake the buccaneer, at last, "you seem to have had a busy time. What has
"Happened?" I repeated, vexed beyond measure at this foolish question. "Oh, nothing, of
course. Go ask those dead men on the deck."
 "Hoity, toity, but you are a cool one. Know you not who I am?"
"No, nor care. But get hence; these friends need my attentions."
"Zounds! I've a mind to run you through. Know, then, I am Morgan!"
"And what then?" I answered, impatiently. "I am Gilbert, an Englishman and an honest one;
which I trow is more than you can say."
The buccaneer frowned darkly, as I could see, for I was again erect and the moon shone
full upon his face. He rattled his sword in its scabbard, as though he would draw it on
me, but thought better of it, and turned away, gnawing at his mustachios savagely.