BLUESKIN, THE PIRATE
CAPE MAY and Cape Henlopen form, as it were, the upper and lower
jaws of a gigantic mouth, which disgorges from its monstrous
gullet the cloudy waters of the Delaware Bay into the heaving,
sparkling blue-green of the Atlantic Ocean. From Cape Henlopen
as the lower jaw there juts out a long, curving fang of high,
smooth-rolling sand dunes, cutting sharp and clean against the
still, blue sky above silent, naked, utterly deserted, excepting
for the squat, white-walled lighthouse standing upon the crest of
the highest hill. Within this curving, sheltering hook of sand
hills lie the smooth waters of Lewes Harbor, and, set a little
back from the shore, the quaint old town, with its dingy wooden
houses of clapboard and shingle, looks sleepily out through the
masts of the shipping lying at anchor in the harbor, to the
purple, clean-cut, level thread of the ocean horizon beyond.
Lewes is a queer, odd, old-fashioned little town, smelling
fragrant of salt marsh and sea breeze. It is rarely visited by
strangers. The people who live there are the progeny of people
who have lived there for many generations, and it is the very
place to nurse, and preserve, and care for old legends and
traditions of bygone times, until they grow from bits of gossip
and news into local history of considerable size. As in the
busier world men talk of last year's elections, here these old
bits, and scraps, and odds and ends of history are retailed to
the listener who cares to listen--traditions of the War of 1812,
when Beresford's fleet lay off the harbor threatening to bombard
the town; tales of the Revolution and of Earl Howe's warships,
tarrying for a while in the quiet harbor before they sailed up
the river to shake old Philadelphia town with the thunders of
their guns at Red Bank and Fort Mifflin.
With these substantial and sober threads of real history, other
and more lurid colors are interwoven into the web of local
lore--legends of the dark doings of famous pirates, of their
mysterious, sinister comings and goings, of treasures buried in
the sand dunes and pine barrens back of the cape and along the
Atlantic beach to the southward.
Of such is the story of Blueskin, the pirate.
It was in the fall and the early winter of the year 1750, and
again in the summer of the year following, that the famous
pirate, Blueskin, became especially identified with Lewes as a
part of its traditional history.
For some time--for three or four years--rumors and reports of
Blueskin's doings in the West Indies and off the Carolinas had
been brought in now and then by sea captains. There was no more
cruel, bloody, desperate, devilish pirate than he in all those
pirate-infested waters. All kinds of wild and bloody stories were
current concerning him, but it never occurred to the good folk of
Lewes that such stories were some time to be a part of their own
But one day a schooner came drifting into Lewes
harbor--shattered, wounded, her forecastle splintered, her
foremast shot half away, and three great tattered holes in her
mainsail. The mate with one of the crew came ashore in the boat
for help and a doctor. He reported that the captain and the cook
were dead and there were three wounded men aboard. The story he
told to the gathering crowd brought a very peculiar thrill to
those who heard it. They had fallen in with Blueskin, he said,
off Fenwick's Island (some twenty or thirty miles below the
capes), and the pirates had come aboard of them; but, finding
that the cargo of the schooner consisted only of cypress shingles
and lumber, had soon quitted their prize. Perhaps Blueskin was
disappointed at not finding a more valuable capture; perhaps the
spirit of deviltry was hotter in him that morning than usual;
anyhow, as the pirate craft bore away she fired three broadsides
at short range into the helpless coaster. The captain had been
killed at the first fire, the cook had died on the way up, three
of the crew were wounded, and the vessel was leaking fast,
betwixt wind and water.
Such was the mate's story. It spread like wildfire, and in half
an hour all the town was in a ferment. Fenwick's Island was very
near home; Blueskin might come sailing into the harbor at any
minute and then--! In an hour Sheriff Jones had called together
most of the able-bodied men of the town, muskets and rifles were
taken down from the chimney places, and every preparation was
made to defend the place against the pirates, should they come
into the harbor and attempt to land.
But Blueskin did not come that day, nor did he come the next or
the next. But on the afternoon of the third the news went
suddenly flying over the town that the pirates were inside the
capes. As the report spread the people came running--men, women,
and children--to the green before the tavern, where a little knot
of old seamen were gathered together, looking fixedly out toward
the offing, talking in low voices. Two vessels, one bark-rigged,
the other and smaller a sloop, were slowly creeping up the bay, a
couple of miles or so away and just inside the cape. There
appeared nothing remarkable about the two crafts, but the little
crowd that continued gathering upon the green stood looking out
across the bay at them none the less anxiously for that. They
were sailing close-hauled to the wind, the sloop following in the
wake of her consort as the pilot fish follows in the wake of the
But the course they held did not lie toward the harbor, but
rather bore away toward the Jersey shore, and by and by it began
to be apparent that Blueskin did not intend visiting the town.
Nevertheless, those who stood looking did not draw a free breath
until, after watching the two pirates for more than an hour and a
half, they saw them--then about six miles away--suddenly put
about and sail with a free wind out to sea again.
"The bloody villains have gone!" said old Captain Wolfe, shutting
his telescope with a click.
But Lewes was not yet quit of Blueskin. Two days later a
half-breed from Indian River bay came up, bringing the news that
the pirates had sailed into the inlet--some fifteen miles below
Lewes--and had careened the bark to clean her.
Perhaps Blueskin did not care to stir up the country people
against him, for the half-breed reported that the pirates were
doing no harm, and that what they took from the farmers of Indian
River and Rehoboth they paid for with good hard money.
It was while the excitement over the pirates was at its highest
fever heat that Levi West came home again.
Even in the middle of the last century the grist mill, a couple
of miles from Lewes, although it was at most but fifty or sixty
years old, had all a look of weather-beaten age, for the cypress
shingles, of which it was built, ripen in a few years of wind and
weather to a silvery, hoary gray, and the white powdering of
flour lent it a look as though the dust of ages had settled upon
it, making the shadows within dim, soft, mysterious. A dozen
willow trees shaded with dappling, shivering ripples of shadow
the road before the mill door, and the mill itself, and the long,
narrow, shingle-built, one-storied, hip-roofed dwelling house. At
the time of the story the mill had descended in a direct line of
succession to Hiram White, the grandson of old Ephraim White, who
had built it, it was said, in 1701.
Hiram White was only twenty-seven years old, but he was already
in local repute as a "character." As a boy he was thought to be
half-witted or "natural," and, as is the case with such
unfortunates in small country towns where everybody knows
everybody, he was made a common sport and jest for the keener,
crueler wits of the neighborhood. Now that he was grown to the
ripeness of manhood he was still looked upon as being--to use a
quaint expression--"slack," or "not jest right." He
awkward, ungainly and loose-jointed, and enormously, prodigiously
strong. He had a lumpish, thick-featured face, with lips heavy
and loosely hanging, that gave him an air of stupidity, half
droll, half pathetic. His little eyes were set far apart and flat
with his face, his eyebrows were nearly white and his hair was of
a sandy, colorless kind. He was singularly taciturn, lisping
thickly when he did talk, and stuttering and hesitating in his
speech, as though his words moved faster than his mind could
follow. It was the custom for local wags to urge, or badger, or
tempt him to talk, for the sake of the ready laugh that always
followed the few thick, stammering words and the stupid drooping
of the jaw at the end of each short speech. Perhaps Squire Hall
was the only one in Lewes Hundred who misdoubted that Hiram was
half-witted. He had had dealings with him and was wont to say
that whoever bought Hiram White for a fool made a fool's bargain.
Certainly, whether he had common wits or no, Hiram had managed
his mill to pretty good purpose and was fairly well off in the
world as prosperity went in southern Delaware and in those days.
No doubt, had it come to the pinch, he might have bought some of
his tormentors out three times over.
Hiram White had suffered quite a financial loss some six months
before, through that very Blueskin who was now lurking in Indian
River inlet. He had entered into a "venture" with Josiah Shippin,
a Philadelphia merchant, to the tune of seven hundred pounds
sterling. The money had been invested in a cargo of flour and
corn meal which had been shipped to Jamaica by the bark Nancy
Lee. The Nancy Lee had been captured by the pirates off
Currituck Sound, the crew set adrift in the longboat, and the
bark herself and all her cargo burned to the water's edge.
Five hundred of the seven hundred pounds invested in the
unfortunate "venture" was money bequeathed by Hiram's father,
seven years before, to Levi West.
Eleazer White had been twice married, the second time to the
widow West. She had brought with her to her new home a
good-looking, long-legged, black-eyed, black-haired ne'er-do-well
of a son, a year or so younger than Hiram. He was a shrewd,
quick-witted lad, idle, shiftless, willful, ill-trained perhaps,
but as bright and keen as a pin. He was the very opposite to
poor, dull Hiram. Eleazer White had never loved his son; he was
ashamed of the poor, slack-witted oaf. Upon the other hand, he
was very fond of Levi West, whom he always called "our Levi,"
whom he treated in every way as though he were his own son. He
tried to train the lad to work in the mill, and was patient
beyond what the patience of most fathers would have been with his
stepson's idleness and shiftlessness. "Never mind," he was used
to say. "Levi'll come all right. Levi's as bright as a button."
It was one of the greatest blows of the old miller's life when
Levi ran away to sea. In his last sickness the old man's mind
constantly turned to his lost stepson. "Mebby he'll come back
again," said he, "and if he does I want you to be good to him,
Hiram. I've done my duty by you and have left you the house and
mill, but I want you to promise that if Levi comes back again
you'll give him a home and a shelter under this roof if he wants
one." And Hiram had promised to do as his father asked.
After Eleazer died it was found that he had bequeathed five
hundred pounds to his "beloved stepson, Levi West," and had left
Squire Hall as trustee.
Levi West had been gone nearly nine years and not a word had been
heard from him; there could be little or no doubt that he was
One day Hiram came into Squire Hall's office with a letter in his
hand. It was the time of the old French war, and flour and corn
meal were fetching fabulous prices in the British West Indies.
The letter Hiram brought with him was from a Philadelphia
merchant, Josiah Shippin, with whom he had had some dealings.
Mr. Shippin proposed that Hiram should join him in sending a
"venture" of flour and corn meal to Kingston, Jamaica. Hiram had
slept upon the letter overnight and now he brought it to the old
Squire. Squire Hall read the letter, shaking his head the while.
"Too much risk, Hiram!" said he. "Mr Shippin wouldn't have
you to go into this venture if he could have got anybody else to
do so. My advice is that you let it alone. I reckon you've come
to me for advice?" Hiram shook his head. "Ye haven't? What have
ye come for, then?"
"Seven hundred pounds," said Hiram.
"Seven hundred pounds!" said Squire Hall. "I haven't got
hundred pounds to lend you, Hiram."
"Five hundred been left to Levi--I got hundred--raise hundred
more on mortgage," said Hiram.
"Tut, tut, Hiram," said Squire Hall, "that'll never do in
world. Suppose Levi West should come back again, what then? I'm
responsible for that money. If you wanted to borrow it now for
any reasonable venture, you should have it and welcome, but for
such a wildcat scheme--"
"Levi never come back," said Hiram--"nine years gone Levi's
"Mebby he is," said Squire Hall, "but we don't know that."
"I'll give bond for security," said Hiram.
Squire Hall thought for a while in silence. "Very well, Hiram,"
said he by and by, "if you'll do that. Your father left the
money, and I don't see that it's right for me to stay his son
from using it. But if it is lost, Hiram, and if Levi should come
back, it will go well to ruin ye."
So Hiram White invested seven hundred pounds in the Jamaica
venture and every farthing of it was burned by Blueskin, off
Sally Martin was said to be the prettiest girl in Lewes Hundred,
and when the rumor began to leak out that Hiram White was
courting her the whole community took it as a monstrous joke. It
was the common thing to greet Hiram himself with, "Hey, Hiram;
how's Sally?" Hiram never made answer to such salutation, but
went his way as heavily, as impassively, as dully as ever.
The joke was true. Twice a week, rain or shine, Hiram White
never failed to scrape his feet upon Billy Martin's doorstep.
Twice a week, on Sundays and Thursdays, he never failed to take
his customary seat by the kitchen fire. He rarely said anything
by way of talk; he nodded to the farmer, to his wife, to Sally
and, when he chanced to be at home, to her brother, but he
ventured nothing further. There he would sit from half past
seven until nine o'clock, stolid, heavy, impassive, his dull eyes
following now one of the family and now another, but always
coming back again to Sally. It sometimes happened that she had
other company--some of the young men of the neighborhood. The
presence of such seemed to make no difference to Hiram; he bore
whatever broad jokes might be cracked upon him, whatever grins,
whatever giggling might follow those jokes, with the same patient
impassiveness. There he would sit, silent, unresponsive; then,
at the first stroke of nine o'clock, he would rise, shoulder his
ungainly person into his overcoat, twist his head into his
three-cornered hat, and with a "Good night, Sally, I be going
now," would take his departure, shutting the door carefully to
Never, perhaps, was there a girl in the world had such a lover
and such a courtship as Sally Martin.
It was one Thursday evening in the latter part of November, about
a week after Blueskin's appearance off the capes, and while the
one subject of talk was of the pirates being in Indian River
inlet. The air was still and wintry; a sudden cold snap had set
in and skims of ice had formed over puddles in the road; the
smoke from the chimneys rose straight in the quiet air and voices
sounded loud, as they do in frosty weather.
Hiram White sat by the dim light of a tallow dip, poring
laboriously over some account books. It was not quite seven
o'clock, and he never started for Billy Martin's before that
hour. As he ran his finger slowly and hesitatingly down the
column of figures, he heard the kitchen door beyond open and
shut, the noise of footsteps crossing the floor and the scraping
of a chair dragged forward to the hearth. Then came the sound of
a basket of corncobs being emptied on the smoldering blaze and
then the snapping and crackling of the reanimated fire. Hiram
thought nothing of all this, excepting, in a dim sort of way,
that it was Bob, the negro mill hand, or old black Dinah, the
housekeeper, and so went on with his calculations.
At last he closed the books with a snap and, smoothing down his
hair, arose, took up the candle, and passed out of the room into
the kitchen beyond.
A man was sitting in front of the corncob fire that flamed and
blazed in the great, gaping, sooty fireplace. A rough overcoat
was flung over the chair behind him and his hands were spread out
to the roaring warmth. At the sound of the lifted latch and of
Hiram's entrance he turned his head, and when Hiram saw his face
he stood suddenly still as though turned to stone. The face,
marvelously altered and changed as it was, was the face of his
stepbrother, Levi West. He was not dead; he had come home again.
For a time not a sound broke the dead, unbroken silence excepting
the crackling of the blaze in the fireplace and the sharp ticking
of the tall clock in the corner. The one face, dull and stolid,
with the light of the candle shining upward over its lumpy
features, looked fixedly, immovably, stonily at the other, sharp,
shrewd, cunning--the red wavering light of the blaze shining upon
the high cheek bones, cutting sharp on the nose and twinkling in
the glassy turn of the black, ratlike eyes. Then suddenly that
face cracked, broadened, spread to a grin. "I have come back
again, Hi," said Levi, and at the sound of the words the
speechless spell was broken.
Hiram answered never a word, but he walked to the fireplace, set
the candle down upon the dusty mantelshelf among the boxes and
bottles, and, drawing forward a chair upon the other side of the
hearth, sat down.
His dull little eyes never moved from his stepbrother's face.
There was no curiosity in his expression, no surprise, no wonder.
The heavy under lip dropped a little farther open and there was
snore than usual of dull, expressionless stupidity upon the
lumpish face; but that was all.
As was said, the face upon which he looked was strangely,
marvelously changed from what it had been when he had last seen
it nine years before, and, though it was still the face of Levi
West, it was a very different Levi West than the shiftless
ne'er-do-well who had run away to sea in the Brazilian brig that
long time ago. That Levi West had been a rough, careless,
happy-go-lucky fellow; thoughtless and selfish, but with nothing
essentially evil or sinister in his nature. The Levi West that
now sat in a rush-bottom chair at the other side of the fireplace
had that stamped upon his front that might be both evil and
sinister. His swart complexion was tanned to an Indian copper. On
one side of his face was a curious discoloration in the skin and
a long, crooked, cruel scar that ran diagonally across forehead
and temple and cheek in a white, jagged seam. This discoloration
was of a livid blue, about the tint of a tattoo mark. It made a
patch the size of a man's hand, lying across the cheek and the
side of the neck. Hiram could not keep his eyes from this mark
and the white scar cutting across it.
There was an odd sort of incongruity in Levi's dress; a pair of
heavy gold earrings and a dirty red handkerchief knotted loosely
around his neck, beneath an open collar, displaying to its full
length the lean, sinewy throat with its bony "Adam's apple," gave
to his costume somewhat the smack of a sailor. He wore a coat
that had once been of fine plum color--now stained and faded--too
small for his lean length, and furbished with tarnished lace.
Dirty cambric cuffs hung at his wrists and on his fingers were
half a dozen and more rings, set with stones that shone, and
glistened, and twinkled in the light of the fire. The hair at
either temple was twisted into a Spanish curl, plastered flat to
the cheek, and a plaited queue hung halfway down his back.
Hiram, speaking never a word, sat motionless, his dull little
eyes traveling slowly up and down and around and around his
Levi did not seem to notice his scrutiny, leaning forward, now
with his palms spread out to the grateful warmth, now rubbing
them slowly together. But at last he suddenly whirled his chair
around, rasping on the floor, and faced his stepbrother. He
thrust his hand into his capacious coat pocket and brought out a
pipe which he proceeded to fill from a skin of tobacco. "Well,
Hi," said he, "d'ye see I've come back home again?"
"Thought you was dead," said Hiram, dully.
Levi laughed, then he drew a red-hot coal out of the fire, put it
upon the bowl of the pipe and began puffing out clouds of pungent
smoke. "Nay, nay," said he; "not dead--not dead by odds.
[puff] by the Eternal Holy, Hi, I played many a close game [puff]
with old Davy Jones, for all that."
Hiram's look turned inquiringly toward the jagged scar and Levi
caught the slow glance. "You're lookin' at this," said he,
running his finger down the crooked seam. "That looks bad, but
it wasn't so close as this"- -laying his hand for a moment upon
the livid stain. "A cooly devil off Singapore gave me that cut
when we fell foul of an opium junk in the China Sea four years
ago last September. This," touching the disfiguring blue patch
again, "was a closer miss, Hi. A Spanish captain fired a pistol
at me down off Santa Catharina. He was so nigh that the powder
went under the skin and it'll never come out again. ----his
eyes--he had better have fired the pistol into his own head that
morning. But never mind that. I reckon I'm changed, ain't I,
He took his pipe out of his mouth and looked inquiringly at
Hiram, who nodded.
Levi laughed. "Devil doubt it," said he, "but whether I'm
changed or no, I'll take my affidavy that you are the same old
half-witted Hi that you used to be. I remember dad used to say
that you hadn't no more than enough wits to keep you out of the
rain. And, talking of dad, Hi, I hearn tell he's been dead now
these nine years gone. D'ye know what I've come home for?"
Hiram shook his head.
"I've come for that five hundred pounds that dad left me when he
died, for I hearn tell of that, too."
Hiram sat quite still for a second or two and then he said, "I
put that money out to venture and lost it all."
Levi's face fell and he took his pipe out of his mouth, regarding
Hiram sharply and keenly. "What d'ye mean?" said he presently.
"I thought you was dead--and I put--seven hundred pounds--into
Nancy Lee- -and Blueskin burned her--off Currituck"
"Burned her off Currituck!" repeated Levi. Then suddenly a light
seemed to break upon his comprehension. "Burned by Blueskin!"
repeated, and thereupon flung himself back in his chair and
burst into a short, boisterous fit of laughter. "Well, by the
Holy Eternal, Hi, if that isn't a piece of your tarnal luck.
Burned by Blueskin, was it?" He paused for a moment, as though
turning it over in his mind. Then he laughed again. "All the
same," said he presently, "d'ye see, I can't suffer for
Blueskin's doings. The money was willed to me, fair and true,
and you have got to pay it, Hiram White, burn or sink, Blueskin
or no Blueskin." Again he puffed for a moment or two in
reflective silence. "All the same, Hi," said he, once more
resuming the thread of talk, "I don't reckon to be too hard on
you. You be only half-witted, anyway, and I sha'n't be too hard
on you. I give you a month to raise that money, and while you're
doing it I'll jest hang around here. I've been in trouble, Hi,
d'ye see. I'm under a cloud and so I want to keep here, as quiet
as may be. I'll tell ye how it came about: I had a set-to with a
land pirate in Philadelphia, and somebody got hurt. That's the
reason I'm here now, and don't you say anything about it. Do you
Hiram opened his lips as though it was his intent to answer, then
seemed to think better of it and contented himself by nodding his
That Thursday night was the first for a six-month that Hiram
White did not scrape his feet clean at Billy Martin's doorstep.
Within a week Levi West had pretty well established himself among
his old friends and acquaintances, though upon a different
footing from that of nine years before, for this was a very
different Levi from that other. Nevertheless, he was none the
less popular in the barroom of the tavern and at the country
store, where he was always the center of a group of loungers. His
nine years seemed to have been crowded full of the wildest of
wild adventures and happenings, as well by land as by sea, and,
given an appreciative audience, he would reel off his yarns by
the hour, in a reckless, devil-may-care fashion that set agape
even old sea dogs who had sailed the western ocean since
boyhood. Then he seemed always to have plenty of money, and he
loved to spend it at the tavern tap-room, with a lavishness that
was at once the wonder and admiration of gossips.
At that time, as was said, Blueskin was the one engrossing topic
of talk, and it added not a little to Levi's prestige when it was
found that he had actually often seen that bloody, devilish
pirate with his own eyes. A great, heavy, burly fellow, Levi said
he was, with a beard as black as a hat--a devil with his sword
and pistol afloat, but not so black as he was painted when
ashore. He told of many adventures in which Blueskin figured and
was then always listened to with more than usual gaping interest.
As for Blueskin, the quiet way in which the pirates conducted
themselves at Indian River almost made the Lewes folk forget what
he could do when the occasion called. They almost ceased to
remember that poor shattered schooner that had crawled with its
ghastly dead and groaning wounded into the harbor a couple of
weeks since. But if for a while they forgot who or what Blueskin
was, it was not for long.
One day a bark from Bristol, bound for Cuba and laden with a
valuable cargo of cloth stuffs and silks, put into Lewes harbor
to take in water. The captain himself came ashore and was at the
tavern for two or three hours. It happened that Levi was there
and that the talk was of Blueskin. The English captain, a
grizzled old sea dog, listened to Levi's yarns with not a little
contempt. He had, he said, sailed in the China Sea and the
Indian Ocean too long to be afraid of any hog-eating Yankee
pirate such as this Blueskin. A junk full of coolies armed with
stink-pots was something to speak of, but who ever heard of the
likes of Blueskin falling afoul of anything more than a Spanish
canoe or a Yankee coaster?
Levi grinned. "All the same, my hearty," said he, "if I was
I'd give Blueskin a wide berth. I hear that he's cleaned the
vessel that was careened awhile ago, and mebby he'll give you a
little trouble if you come too nigh him."
To this the Englishman only answered that Blueskin might be----,
and that the next afternoon, wind and weather permitting, he
intended to heave anchor and run out to sea.
Levi laughed again. "I wish I might be here to see what'll
happen," said he, "but I'm going up the river to-night to see
gal and mebby won't be back again for three or four days."
The next afternoon the English bark set sail as the captain
promised, and that night Lewes town was awake until almost
morning, gazing at a broad red glare that lighted up the sky away
toward the southeast. Two days afterward a negro oysterman came
up from Indian River with news that the pirates were lying off
the inlet, bringing ashore bales of goods from their larger
vessel and piling the same upon the beach under tarpaulins. He
said that it was known down at Indian River that Blueskin had
fallen afoul of an English bark, had burned her and had murdered
the captain and all but three of the crew, who had joined with
The excitement over this terrible happening had only begun to
subside when another occurred to cap it. One afternoon a ship's
boat, in which were five men and two women, came rowing into
Lewes harbor. It was the longboat of the Charleston packet,
bound for New York, and was commanded by the first mate. The
packet had been attacked and captured by the pirates about ten
leagues south by east of Cape Henlopen. The pirates had come
aboard of them at night and no resistance had been offered.
Perhaps it was that circumstance that saved the lives of all, for
no murder or violence had been done. Nevertheless, officers,
passengers and crew had been stripped of everything of value and
set adrift in the boats and the ship herself had been burned. The
longboat had become separated from the others during the night
and had sighted Henlopen a little after sunrise.
It may be here said that Squire Hall made out a report of these
two occurrences and sent it up to Philadelphia by the mate of the
packet. But for some reason it was nearly four weeks before a
sloop of war was sent around from New York. In the meanwhile,
the pirates had disposed of the booty stored under the tarpaulins
on the beach at Indian River inlet, shipping some of it away in
two small sloops and sending the rest by wagons somewhere up the
Levi had told the English captain that he was going up-country to
visit one of his lady friends. He was gone nearly two weeks.
Then once more he appeared, as suddenly, as unexpectedly, as he
had done when he first returned to Lewes. Hiram was sitting at
supper when the door opened and Levi walked in, hanging up his
hat behind the door as unconcernedly as though he had only been
gone an hour. He was in an ugly, lowering humor and sat himself
down at the table without uttering a word, resting his chin upon
his clenched fist and glowering fixedly at the corn cake while
Dinah fetched him a plate and knife and fork.
His coming seemed to have taken away all of Hiram's appetite. He
pushed away his plate and sat staring at his stepbrother, who
presently fell to at the bacon and eggs like a famished wolf. Not
a word was said until Levi had ended his meal and filled his
pipe. "Look'ee, Hiram," said he, as he stooped over the fire and
raked out a hot coal. "Look'ee, Hiram! I've been to
Philadelphia, d'ye see, a-settlin' up that trouble I told you
about when I first come home. D'ye understand? D'ye remember?
D'ye get it through your skull?" He looked around over his
shoulder, waiting as though for an answer. But getting none, he
continued: "I expect two gentlemen here from Philadelphia
to-night. They're friends of mine and are coming to talk over the
business and ye needn't stay at home, Hi. You can go out
somewhere, d'ye understand?" And then he added with a grin, "Ye
can go to see Sally."
Hiram pushed back his chair and arose. He leaned with his back
against the side of the fireplace. "I'll stay at home," said he
"But I don't want you to stay at home, Hi," said Levi. "We'll
have to talk business and I want you to go!"
"I'll stay at home," said Hiram again.
Levi's brow grew as black as thunder. He ground his teeth
together and for a moment or two it seemed as though an explosion
was coming. But he swallowed his passion with a gulp. "You're
a----pig-headed, half-witted fool," said he. Hiram never so much
as moved his eyes. "As for you," said Levi, whirling round upon
Dinah, who was clearing the table, and glowering balefully upon
the old negress, "you put them things down and git out of here.
Don't you come nigh this kitchen again till I tell ye to. If I
catch you pryin' around may I be----, eyes and liver, if I don't
cut your heart out."
In about half an hour Levi's friends came; the first a little,
thin, wizened man with a very foreign look. He was dressed in a
rusty black suit and wore gray yarn stockings and shoes with
brass buckles. The other was also plainly a foreigner. He was
dressed in sailor fashion, with petticoat breeches of duck, a
heavy pea-jacket, and thick boots, reaching to the knees. He
wore a red sash tied around his waist, and once, as he pushed
back his coat, Hiram saw the glitter of a pistol butt. He was a
powerful, thickset man, low-browed and bull-necked, his cheek,
and chin, and throat closely covered with a stubble of blue-black
beard. He wore a red kerchief tied around his head and over it a
cocked hat, edged with tarnished gilt braid.
Levi himself opened the door to them. He exchanged a few words
outside with his visitors, in a foreign language of which Hiram
understood nothing. Neither of the two strangers spoke a word to
Hiram: the little man shot him a sharp look out of the corners
of his eyes and the burly ruffian scowled blackly at him, but
beyond that neither vouchsafed him any regard.
Levi drew to the shutters, shot the bolt in the outer door, and
tilted a chair against the latch of the one that led from the
kitchen into the adjoining room. Then the three worthies seated
themselves at the table which Dinah had half cleared of the
supper china, and were presently deeply engrossed over a packet
of papers which the big, burly man had brought with him in the
pocket of his pea-jacket. The confabulation was conducted
throughout in the same foreign language which Levi had used when
first speaking to them--a language quite unintelligible to
Hiram's ears. Now and then the murmur of talk would rise loud
and harsh over some disputed point; now and then it would sink
away to whispers.
Twice the tall clock in the corner whirred and sharply struck the
hour, but throughout the whole long consultation Hiram stood
silent, motionless as a stock, his eyes fixed almost unwinkingly
upon the three heads grouped close together around the dim,
flickering light of the candle and the papers scattered upon the
Suddenly the talk came to an end, the three heads separated and
the three chairs were pushed back, grating harshly. Levi rose,
went to the closet and brought thence a bottle of Hiram's apple
brandy, as coolly as though it belonged to himself. He set three
tumblers and a crock of water upon the table and each helped
As the two visitors departed down the road, Levi stood for a
while at the open door, looking after the dusky figures until
they were swallowed in the darkness. Then he turned, came in,
shut the door, shuddered, took a final dose of the apple brandy
and went to bed, without, since his first suppressed explosion,
having said a single word to Hiram.
Hiram, left alone, stood for a while, silent, motionless as ever,
then he looked slowly about him, gave a shake of the shoulders as
though to arouse himself, and taking the candle, left the room,
shutting the door noiselessly behind him.
This time of Levi West's unwelcome visitation was indeed a time
of bitter trouble and tribulation to poor Hiram White. Money was
of very different value in those days than it is now, and five
hundred pounds was in its way a good round lump--in Sussex County
it was almost a fortune. It was a desperate struggle for Hiram
to raise the amount of his father's bequest to his stepbrother.
Squire Hall, as may have been gathered, had a very warm and
friendly feeling for Hiram, believing in him when all others
disbelieved; nevertheless, in the matter of money the old man was
as hard and as cold as adamant. He would, he said, do all he
could to help Hiram, but that five hundred pounds must and should
be raised--Hiram must release his security bond. He would loan
him, he said, three hundred pounds, taking a mortgage upon the
mill. He would have lent him four hundred but that there was
already a first mortgage of one hundred pounds upon it, and he
would not dare to put more than three hundred more atop of that.
Hiram had a considerable quantity of wheat which he had bought
upon speculation and which was then lying idle in a Philadelphia
storehouse. This he had sold at public sale and at a very great
sacrifice; he realized barely one hundred pounds upon it. The
financial horizon looked very black to him; nevertheless, Levi's
five hundred pounds was raised, and paid into Squire Hall's
hands, and Squire Hall released Hiram's bond.
The business was finally closed on one cold, gray afternoon in
the early part of December. As Hiram tore his bond across and
then tore it across again and again, Squire Hall pushed back the
papers upon his desk and cocked his feet upon its slanting top.
"Hiram," said he, abruptly, "Hiram, do you know that Levi
forever hanging around Billy Martin's house, after that pretty
daughter of his?"
So long a space of silence followed the speech that the Squire
began to think that Hiram might not have heard him. But Hiram
had heard. "No," said he, "I didn't know it."
"Well, he is," said Squire Hall. "It's the talk of the whole
neighborhood. The talk's pretty bad, too. D'ye know that they
say that she was away from home three days last week, nobody knew
where? The fellow's turned her head with his sailor's yarns and
his traveler's lies."
Hiram said not a word, but he sat looking at the other in stolid
silence. "That stepbrother of yours," continued the old Squire
presently, "is a rascal--he is a rascal, Hiram, and I mis-doubt
he's something worse. I hear he's been seen in some queer places
and with queer company of late."
He stopped again, and still Hiram said nothing. "And look'ee,
Hiram," the old man resumed, suddenly, "I do hear that you be
courtin' the girl, too; is that so?"
"Yes," said Hiram, "I'm courtin' her, too."
"Tut! tut!" said the Squire, "that's a pity, Hiram. I'm afraid
your cakes are dough."
After he had left the Squire's office, Hiram stood for a while in
the street, bareheaded, his hat in his hand, staring unwinkingly
down at the ground at his feet, with stupidly drooping lips and
lackluster eyes. Presently he raised his hand and began slowly
smoothing down the sandy shock of hair upon his forehead. At
last he aroused himself with a shake, looked dully up and down
the street, and then, putting on his hat, turned and walked
slowly and heavily away.
The early dusk of the cloudy winter evening was settling fast,
for the sky was leaden and threatening. At the outskirts of the
town Hiram stopped again and again stood for a while in brooding
thought. Then, finally, he turned slowly, not the way that led
homeward, but taking the road that led between the bare and
withered fields and crooked fences toward Billy Martin's.
It would be hard to say just what it was that led Hiram to seek
Billy Martin's house at that time of day--whether it was fate or
ill fortune. He could not have chosen a more opportune time to
confirm his own undoing. What he saw was the very worst that his
Along the road, at a little distance from the house, was a
mock-orange hedge, now bare, naked, leafless. As Hiram drew near
he heard footsteps approaching and low voices. He drew back into
the fence corner and there stood, half sheltered by the stark
network of twigs. Two figures passed slowly along the gray of
the roadway in the gloaming. One was his stepbrother, the other
was Sally Martin. Levi's arm was around her, he was whispering
into her ear, and her head rested upon his shoulder.
Hiram stood as still, as breathless, as cold as ice. They stopped
upon the side of the road just beyond where he stood. Hiram's
eyes never left them. There for some time they talked together
in low voices, their words now and then reaching the ears of that
silent, breathless listener.
Suddenly there came the clattering of an opening door, and then
Betty Martin's voice broke the silence, harshly, shrilly:
"Sal!--Sal!--Sally Martin! You, Sally Martin! Come in yere.
Where be ye?"
The girl flung her arms around Levi's neck and their lips met in
one quick kiss. The next moment she was gone, flying swiftly,
silently, down the road past where Hiram stood, stooping as she
ran. Levi stood looking after her until she was gone; then he
turned and walked away whistling.
His whistling died shrilly into silence in the wintry distance,
and then at last Hiram came stumbling out from the hedge. His
face had never looked before as it looked then.
Hiram was standing in front of the fire with his hands clasped
behind his back. He had not touched the supper on the table.
Levi was eating with an appetite. Suddenly he looked over his
plate at his stepbrother.
"How about that five hundred pounds, Hiram?" said he. "I
a month to raise it and the month ain't quite up yet, but I'm
goin' to leave this here place day after to-morrow--by next day
at the furd'st--and I want the money that's mine."
"I paid it to Squire Hall to-day and he has it fer ye," said
Levi laid down his knife and fork with a clatter. "Squire Hall!"
said he, "what's Squire Hall got to do with it? Squire Hall
didn't have the use of that money. It was you had it and you
have got to pay it back to me, and if you don't do it, by G----,
I'll have the law on you, sure as you're born."
"Squire Hall's trustee--I ain't your trustee," said Hiram, in
same dull voice.
"I don't know nothing about trustees," said Levi, "or anything
about lawyer business, either. What I want to know is, are you
going to pay me my money or no?"
"No," said Hiram, "I ain't--Squire Hall'll pay ye; you go
Levi West's face grew purple red. He pushed back, his chair
grating harshly. "You--bloody land pirate!" he said, grinding
teeth together. "I see through your tricks. You're up to
cheating me out of my money. You know very well that Squire Hall
is down on me, hard and bitter-- writin' his----reports to
Philadelphia and doing all he can to stir up everybody agin me
and to bring the bluejackets down on me. I see through your
tricks as clear as glass, but ye shatn't trick me. I'll have my
money if there's law in the land--ye bloody, unnatural thief ye,
who'd go agin our dead father's will!"
Then--if the roof had fallen in upon him, Levi West could not
have been more amazed--Hiram suddenly strode forward, and,
leaning half across the table with his fists clenched, fairly
glared into Levi's eyes. His face, dull, stupid, wooden, was now
fairly convulsed with passion. The great veins stood out upon his
temples like knotted whipcords, and when he spoke his voice was
more a breathless snarl than the voice of a Christian man.
"Ye'll have the law, will ye?" said he. "Ye'll--have the
will ye? You're afeared to go to law--Levi West--you try th'
law--and see how ye like it. Who 're you to call me thief--ye
bloody, murderin' villain ye! You're the thief--Levi West--you
come here and stole my daddy from me ye did. You make me
ruin--myself to pay what oughter to been mine then--ye ye steal
the gal I was courtin', to boot." He stopped and his lips rithed
for words to say. "I know ye," said he, grinding his teeth. "I
know ye! And only for what my daddy made me promise I'd a-had
you up to the magistrate's before this."
Then, pointing with quivering finger: "There's the door--you see
it! Go out that there door and don't never come into it again--if
ye do--or if ye ever come where I can lay eyes on ye again--by
th' Holy Holy I'll hale ye up to the Squire's office and tell all
I know and all I've seen. Oh, I'll give ye your belly-fill of
law if--ye want th' law! Git out of the house, I say!"
As Hiram spoke Levi seemed to shrink together. His face changed
from its copper color to a dull, waxy yellow. When the other
ended he answered never a word. But he pushed back his chair,
rose, put on his hat and, with a furtive, sidelong look, left the
house, without stopping to finish the supper which he had begun.
He never entered Hiram White's door again.
Hiram had driven out the evil spirit from his home, but the
mischief that it had brewed was done and could not be undone. The
next day it was known that Sally Martin had run away from home,
and that she had run away with Levi West. Old Billy Martin had
been in town in the morning with his rifle, hunting for Levi and
threatening if he caught him to have his life for leading his
And, as the evil spirit had left Hiram's house, so had another
and a greater evil spirit quitted its harborage. It was heard
from Indian River in a few days more that Blueskin had quitted
the inlet and had sailed away to the southeast; and it was
reported, by those who seemed to know, that he had finally
quitted those parts.
It was well for himself that Blueskin left when he did, for not
three days after he sailed away the Scorpion sloop-of-war dropped
anchor in Lewes harbor. The New York agent of the unfortunate
packet and a government commissioner had also come aboard the
Without loss of time, the officer in command instituted a keen
and searching examination that brought to light some singularly
curious facts. It was found that a very friendly understanding
must have existed for some time between the pirates and the
people of Indian River, for, in the houses throughout that
section, many things--some of considerable value--that had been
taken by the pirates from the packet, were discovered and seized
by the commissioner. Valuables of a suspicious nature had found
their way even into the houses of Lewes itself.
The whole neighborhood seemed to have become more or less tainted
by the presence of the pirates.
Even poor Hiram White did not escape the suspicions of having had
dealings with them. Of course the examiners were not slow in
discovering that Levi West had been deeply concerned with
Old Dinah and black Bob were examined, and not only did the story
of Levi's two visitors come to light, but also the fact that
Hiram was present and with them while they were in the house
disposing of the captured goods to their agent.
Of all that he had endured, nothing seemed to cut poor Hiram so
deeply and keenly as these unjust suspicions. They seemed to
bring the last bitter pang, hardest of all to bear.
Levi had taken from him his father's love; he had driven him, if
not to ruin, at least perilously close to it. He had run away
with the girl he loved, and now, through him, even Hiram's good
name was gone.
Neither did the suspicions against him remain passive; they
Goldsmiths' bills, to the amount of several thousand pounds, had
been taken in the packet and Hiram was examined with an almost
inquisitorial closeness and strictness as to whether he had or
had not knowledge of their whereabouts.
Under his accumulated misfortunes, he grew not only more dull,
more taciturn, than ever, but gloomy, moody, brooding as well.
For hours he would sit staring straight before him into the fire,
without moving so much as a hair.
One night--it was a bitterly cold night in February, with three
inches of dry and gritty snow upon the ground--while Hiram sat
thus brooding, there came, of a sudden, a soft tap upon the door.
Low and hesitating as it was, Hiram started violently at the
sound. He sat for a while, looking from right to left. Then
suddenly pushing back his chair, he arose, strode to the door,
and flung it wide open,
It was Sally Martin.
Hiram stood for a while staring blankly at her. It was she who
first spoke. "Won't you let me come in, Hi?" said she. "I'm
starved with the cold and I'm fit to die, I'm so hungry. For
God's sake, let me come in."
"Yes," said Hiram, "I'll let you come in, but why don't you
The poor girl was shivering and chattering with the cold; now she
began crying, wiping her eyes with the corner of a blanket in
which her head and shoulders were wrapped. "I have been home,
Hiram," she said, "but dad, he shut the door in my face. He
cursed me just awful, Hi--I wish I was dead!"
"You better come in," said Hiram. "It's no good standing
there in the cold." He stood aside and the girl entered,
At Hiram's bidding black Dinah presently set some food before
Sally and she fell to eating ravenously, almost ferociously.
Meantime, while she ate, Hiram stood with his back to the fire,
looking at her face that face once so round and rosy, now thin,
"Are you sick, Sally?" said he presently.
"No," said she, "but I've had pretty hard times since I left
home, Hi." The tears sprang to her eyes at the recollection of
her troubles, but she only wiped them hastily away with the back
of her hand, without stopping in her eating.
A long pause of dead silence followed. Dinah sat crouched
together on a cricket at the other side of the hearth, listening
with interest. Hiram did not seem to see her. "Did you go off
with Levi?" said he at last, speaking abruptly. The girl looked
up furtively under her brows. "You needn't be afeared to tell,"
"Yes," said she at last, "I did go off with him, Hi."
"Where've you been?"
At the question, she suddenly laid down her knife and fork.
"Don't you ask me that, Hi," said she, agitatedly, "I can't
you that. You don't know Levi, Hiram; I darsn't tell you anything
he don't want me to. If I told you where I been he'd hunt me out,
no matter where I was, and kill me. If you only knew what I know
about him, Hiram, you wouldn't ask anything about him."
Hiram stood looking broodingly at her for a long time; then at
last he again spoke. "I thought a sight of you onc't, Sally,"
Sally did not answer immediately, but, after a while, she
suddenly looked up. "Hiram," said she, "if I tell ye something
will you promise on your oath not to breathe a word to any living
soul?" Hiram nodded. "Then I'll tell you, but if Levi finds I've
told he'll murder me as sure as you're standin' there. Come
nigher--I've got to whisper it." He leaned forward close to her
where she sat. She looked swiftly from right to left; then
raising her lips she breathed into his ear: "I'm an honest
woman, Hi. I was married to Levi West before I run away."
The winter had passed, spring had passed, and summer had come.
Whatever Hiram had felt, he had made no sign of suffering.
Nevertheless, his lumpy face had begun to look flabby, his cheeks
hollow, and his loose-jointed body shrunk more awkwardly together
into its clothes. He was often awake at night, sometimes walking
up and down his room until far into the small hours.
It was through such a wakeful spell as this that he entered into
the greatest, the most terrible, happening of his life.
It was a sulphurously hot night in July. The air was like the
breath of a furnace, and it was a hard matter to sleep with even
the easiest mind and under the most favorable circumstances. The
full moon shone in through the open window, laying a white square
of light upon the floor, and Hiram, as he paced up and down, up
and down, walked directly through it, his gaunt figure starting
out at every turn into sudden brightness as he entered the
straight line of misty light.
The clock in the kitchen whirred and rang out the hour of twelve,
and Hiram stopped in his walk to count the strokes.
The last vibration died away into silence, and still he stood
motionless, now listening with a new and sudden intentness, for,
even as the clock rang the last stroke, he heard soft, heavy
footsteps, moving slowly and cautiously along the pathway before
the house and directly below the open window. A few seconds more
and he heard the creaking of rusty hinges. The mysterious
visitor had entered the mill. Hiram crept softly to the window
and looked out. The moon shone full on the dusty, shingled face
of the old mill, not thirty steps away, and he saw that the door
was standing wide open. A second or two of stillness followed,
and then, as he still stood looking intently, he saw the figure
of a man suddenly appear, sharp and vivid, from the gaping
blackness of the open doorway. Hiram could see his face as clear
as day. It was Levi West, and he carried an empty meal bag over
Levi West stood looking from right to left for a second or two,
and then he took off his hat and wiped his brow with the back of
his hand. Then he softly closed the door behind him and left the
mill as he had come, and with the same cautious step. Hiram
looked down upon him as he passed close to the house and almost
directly beneath. He could have touched him with his hand.
Fifty or sixty yards from the house Levi stopped and a second
figure arose from the black shadow in the angle of the worm fence
and joined him. They stood for a while talking together, Levi
pointing now and then toward the mill. Then the two turned, and,
climbing over the fence, cut across an open field and through the
tall, shaggy grass toward the southeast.
Hiram straightened himself and drew a deep breath, and the moon,
shining full upon his face, snowed it twisted, convulsed, as it
had been when he had fronted his stepbrother seven months before
in the kitchen. Great beads of sweat stood on his brow and he
wiped them away with his sleeve. Then, coatless, hatless as he
was, he swung himself out of the window, dropped upon the grass,
and, without an instant of hesitation, strode off down the road
in the direction that Levi West had taken.
As he climbed the fence where the two men had climbed it he could
see them in the pallid light, far away across the level, scrubby
meadow land, walking toward a narrow strip of pine woods.
A little later they entered the sharp-cut shadows beneath the
trees and were swallowed in the darkness.
With fixed eyes and close-shut lips, as doggedly, as inexorably
as though he were a Nemesis hunting his enemy down, Hiram
followed their footsteps across the stretch of moonlit open.
Then, by and by, he also was in the shadow of the pines. Here,
not a sound broke the midnight hush. His feet made no noise upon
the resinous softness of the ground below. In that dead,
pulseless silence he could distinctly hear the distant voices of
Levi and his companion, sounding loud and resonant in the hollow
of the woods. Beyond the woods was a cornfield, and presently he
heard the rattling of the harsh leaves as the two plunged into
the tasseled jungle. Here, as in the woods, he followed them,
step by step, guided by the noise of their progress through the
Beyond the cornfield ran a road that, skirting to the south of
Lewes, led across a wooden bridge to the wide salt marshes that
stretched between the town and the distant sand hills. Coming out
upon this road Hiram found that he had gained upon those he
followed, and that they now were not fifty paces away, and he
could see that Levi's companion carried over his shoulder what
looked like a bundle of tools.
He waited for a little while to let them gain their distance and
for the second time wiped his forehead with his shirt sleeve;
then, without ever once letting his eyes leave them, he climbed
the fence to the roadway.
For a couple of miles or more he followed the two along the
white, level highway, past silent, sleeping houses, past barns,
sheds, and haystacks, looming big in the moonlight, past fields,
and woods, and clearings, past the dark and silent skirts of the
town, and so, at last, out upon the wide, misty salt marshes,
which seemed to stretch away interminably through the pallid
light, yet were bounded in the far distance by the long, white
line of sand hills.
Across the level salt marshes he followed them, through the rank
sedge and past the glassy pools in which his own inverted image
stalked beneath as he stalked above; on and on, until at last
they had reached a belt of scrub pines, gnarled and gray, that
fringed the foot of the white sand hills.
Here Hiram kept within the black network of shadow. The two whom
he followed walked more in the open, with their shadows, as black
as ink, walking along in the sand beside them, and now, in the
dead, breathless stillness, might be heard, dull and heavy, the
distant thumping, pounding roar of the Atlantic surf, beating on
the beach at the other side of the sand hills, half a mile away.
At last the two rounded the southern end of the white bluff, and
when Hiram, following, rounded it also, they were no longer to be
Before him the sand hill rose, smooth and steep, cutting in a
sharp ridge against the sky. Up this steep hill trailed the
footsteps of those he followed, disappearing over the crest.
Beyond the ridge lay a round, bowl-like hollow, perhaps fifty
feet across and eighteen or twenty feet deep, scooped out by the
eddying of the winds into an almost perfect circle. Hiram,
slowly, cautiously, stealthily, following their trailing line of
footmarks, mounted to the top of the hillock and peered down into
the bowl beneath. The two men were sitting upon the sand, not
far from the tall, skeleton-like shaft of a dead pine tree that
rose, stark and gray, from the sand in which it may once have
been buried, centuries ago.
Levi had taken off his coat and waistcoat and was fanning himself
with his hat. He was sitting upon the bag he had brought from
the mill and which he had spread out upon the sand. His
companion sat facing him. The moon shone full upon him and Hiram
knew him instantly--he was the same burly, foreign-looking
ruffian who had come with the little man to the mill that night
to see Levi. He also had his hat off and was wiping his forehead
and face with a red handkerchief. Beside him lay the bundle of
tools he had brought--a couple of shovels, a piece of rope, and a
long, sharp iron rod.
The two men were talking together, but Hiram could not understand
what they said, for they spoke in the same foreign language that
they had before used. But he could see his stepbrother point with
his finger, now to the dead tree and now to the steep, white face
of the opposite side of the bowl-like hollow.
At last, having apparently rested themselves, the conference, if
conference it was, came to an end, and Levi led the way, the
other following, to the dead pine tree. Here he stopped and
began searching, as though for some mark; then, having found that
which he looked for, he drew a tapeline and a large brass pocket
compass from his pocket. He gave one end of the tape line to his
companion, holding the other with his thumb pressed upon a
particular part of the tree. Taking his bearings by the compass,
he gave now and then some orders to the other, who moved a little
to the left or the right as he bade. At last he gave a word of
command, and, thereupon, his companion drew a wooden peg from his
pocket and thrust it into the sand. From this peg as a base they
again measured, taking bearings by the compass, and again drove a
peg. For a third time they repeated their measurements and then,
at last, seemed to have reached the point which they aimed for.
Here Levi marked a cross with his heel upon the sand.
His companion brought him the pointed iron rod which lay beside
the shovels, and then stood watching as Levi thrust it deep into
the sand, again and again, as though sounding for some object
below. It was some while before he found that for which he was
seeking, but at last the rod struck with a jar upon some hard
object below. After making sure of success by one or two
additional taps with the rod, Levi left it remaining where it
stood, brushing the sand from his hands. "Now fetch the shovels,
Pedro," said he, speaking for the first time in English.
The two men were busy for a long while, shoveling away the sand.
The object for which they were seeking lay buried some six feet
deep, and the work was heavy and laborious, the shifting sand
sliding back, again and again, into the hole. But at last the
blade of one of the shovels struck upon some hard substance and
Levi stooped and brushed away the sand with the palm of his hand.
Levi's companion climbed out of the hole which they had dug and
tossed the rope which he had brought with the shovels down to the
other. Levi made it fast to some object below and then himself
mounted to the level of the sand above. Pulling together, the
two drew up from the hole a heavy iron-bound box, nearly three
feet long and a foot wide and deep.
Levi's companion stooped and began untying the rope which had
been lashed to a ring in the lid.
What next happened happened suddenly, swiftly, terribly. Levi
drew back a single step, and shot one quick, keen look to right
and to left. He passed his hand rapidly behind his back, and the
next moment Hiram saw the moonlight gleam upon the long, sharp,
keen blade of a knife. Levi raised his arm. Then, just as the
other arose from bending over the chest, he struck, and struck
again, two swift, powerful blows. Hiram saw the blade drive,
clean and sharp, into the back, and heard the hilt strike with a
dull thud against the ribs--once, twice. The burly, black-
bearded wretch gave a shrill, terrible cry and fell staggering
back. Then, in an instant, with another cry, he was up and
clutched Levi with a clutch of despair by the throat and by the
arm. Then followed a struggle, short, terrible, silent. Not a
sound was heard but the deep, panting breath and the scuffling of
feet in the sand, upon which there now poured and dabbled a
dark-purple stream. But it was a one-sided struggle and lasted
only for a second or two. Levi wrenched his arm loose from the
wounded man's grasp, tearing his shirt sleeve from the wrist to
the shoulder as he did so. Again and again the cruel knife was
lifted, and again and again it fell, now no longer bright, but
stained with red.
Then, suddenly, all was over. Levi's companion dropped to the
sand without a sound, like a bundle of rags. For a moment he lay
limp and inert; then one shuddering spasm passed over him and he
lay silent and still, with his face half buried in the sand.
Levi, with the knife still gripped tight in his hand, stood
leaning over his victim, looking down upon his body. His shirt
and hand, and even his naked arm, were stained and blotched with
blood. The moon lit up his face and it was the face of a devil
At last he gave himself a shake, stooped and wiped his knife and
hand and arm upon the loose petticoat breeches of the dead man.
He thrust his knife back into its sheath, drew a key from his
pocket and unlocked the chest. In the moonlight Hiram could see
that it was filled mostly with paper and leather bags, full,
apparently of money.
All through this awful struggle and its awful ending Hiram lay,
dumb and motionless, upon the crest of the sand hill, looking
with a horrid fascination upon the death struggle in the pit
below. Now Hiram arose. The sand slid whispering down from the
crest as he did so, but Levi was too intent in turning over the
contents of the chest to notice the slight sound.
Hiram's face was ghastly pale and drawn. For one moment he
opened his lips as though to speak, but no word came. So, white,
silent, he stood for a few seconds, rather like a statue than a
living man, then, suddenly, his eyes fell upon the bag, which
Levi had brought with him, no doubt, to carry back the treasure
for which he and his companion were in search, and which still
lay spread out on the sand where it had been flung. Then, as
though a thought had suddenly flashed upon him, his whole
expression changed, his lips closed tightly together as though
fearing an involuntary sound might escape, and the haggard look
dissolved from his face.
Cautiously, slowly, he stepped over the edge of the sand hill and
down the slanting face. His coming was as silent as death, for
his feet made no noise as he sank ankle-deep in the yielding
surface. So, stealthily, step by step, he descended, reached the
bag, lifted it silently. Levi, still bending over the chest and
searching through the papers within, was not four feet away.
Hiram raised the bag in his hands. He must have made some slight
rustle as he did so, for suddenly Levi half turned his head. But
he was one instant too late. In a flash the bag was over his
Then came another struggle, as fierce, as silent, as desperate as
that other--and as short. Wiry, tough, and strong as he was,
with a lean, sinewy, nervous vigor, fighting desperately for his
life as he was, Levi had no chance against the ponderous strength
of his stepbrother. In any case, the struggle could not have
lasted long; as it was, Levi stumbled backward over the body of
his dead mate and fell, with Hiram upon him. Maybe he was stunned
by the fall; maybe he felt the hopelessness of resistance, for he
lay quite still while Hiram, kneeling upon him, drew the rope
from the ring of the chest and, without uttering a word, bound it
tightly around both the bag and the captive within, knotting it
again and again and drawing it tight. Only once was a word
spoken. "If you'll lemme go," said a muffled voice from the bag,
"I'll give you five thousand pounds--it's in that there box."
Hiram answered never a word, but continued knotting the rope and
drawing it tight.
The Scorpion sloop-of-war lay in Lewes harbor all that winter and
spring, probably upon the slim chance of a return of the pirates.
It was about eight o'clock in the morning and Lieutenant Maynard
was sitting in Squire Hall's office, fanning himself with his hat
and talking in a desultory fashion. Suddenly the dim and distant
noise of a great crowd was heard from without, coming nearer and
nearer. The Squire and his visitor hurried to the door. The
crowd was coming down the street shouting, jostling, struggling,
some on the footway, some in the roadway. Heads were at the doors
and windows, looking down upon them. Nearer they came, and
nearer; then at last they could see that the press surrounded and
accompanied one man. It was Hiram White, hatless, coatless, the
sweat running down his face in streams, but stolid and silent as
ever. Over his shoulder he carried a bag, tied round and round
with a rope. It was not until the crowd and the man it surrounded
had come quite near that the Squire and the lieutenant saw that a
pair of legs in gray-yarn stockings hung from the bag. It was a
man he was carrying.
Hiram had lugged his burden five miles that morning without help
and with scarcely a rest on the way.
He came directly toward the Squire's office and, still sun
rounded and hustled by the crowd, up the steep steps to the
office within. He flung his burden heavily upon the floor without
a word and wiped his streaming forehead.
The Squire stood with his knuckles on his desk, staring first at
Hiram and then at the strange burden he had brought. A sudden
hush fell upon all, though the voices of those without sounded as
loud and turbulent as ever. "What is it, Hiram?" said Squire Hall
Then for the first time Hiram spoke, panting thickly. "It's a
bloody murderer," said he, pointing a quivering finger at the
"Here, some of you!" called out the Squire. "Come! Untie
man! Who is he?" A dozen willing fingers quickly unknotted the
rope and the bag was slipped from the head and body.
Hair and face and eyebrows and clothes were powdered with meal,
but, in spite of all and through all the innocent whiteness, dark
spots and blotches and smears of blood showed upon head and arm
and shirt. Levi raised himself upon his elbow and looked
scowlingly around at the amazed, wonderstruck faces surrounding
"Why, it's Levi West!" croaked the Squire, at last finding his
Then, suddenly, Lieutenant Maynard pushed forward, before the
others crowded around the figure on the floor, and, clutching
Levi by the hair, dragged his head backward so as to better see
his face. "Levi West!" said he in a loud voice. "Is this
Levi West you've been telling me of? Look at that scar and the
mark on his cheek! THIS IS BLUESKIN HIMSELF."
In the chest which Blueskin had dug up out of the sand were
found not only the goldsmiths' bills taken from the packet, but
also many other valuables belonging to the officers and the
passengers of the unfortunate ship.
The New York agents offered Hiram a handsome reward for his
efforts in recovering the lost bills, but Hiram declined it,
positively and finally. "All I want," said he, in his usual dull,
stolid fashion, "is to have folks know I'm honest."
Nevertheless, though he did not accept what the agents of the
packet offered, fate took the matter into its own hands and
rewarded him not unsubstantially. Blueskin was taken to England
in the Scorpion. But he never came to trial. While in Newgate he
hanged himself to the cell window with his own stockings. The
news of his end was brought to Lewes in the early autumn and
Squire Hall took immediate measures to have the five hundred
pounds of his father's legacy duly transferred to Hiram.
In November Hiram married the pirate's widow.
Room | Howard
Pyle's Book of Pirates