Although a comparatively light line, it was a long one, and the slack of it was now in the water, so that Dickory had to pull hard upon it before he could grasp enough of it to pass around his body. He had scarcely done this, and had made a knot in it, before a lurch of the brig brought a strain on the rope, and he was incontinently jerked overboard.
The crew of the merchantman, who had not had time to comprehend what the young fellow was about to do, would have grasped him had he remained on the rail a moment longer, but now he was gone into the sea, and, working vigorously with his legs and arms, was endeavouring to keep his head above water while the pirates at the other end of the rope pulled him swiftly towards their vessel.
Great was the excitement on board the Revenge. Why should a man from a merchantman endeavour, alone, to board a vessel which flew the Jolly Roger? Did he wish to join the crew? Had they been ill-treating him on board the brig? Was he a criminal endeavouring to escape from the officers of the law? It was impossible to answer any of these questions, and so the swarthy rascals pulled so hard and so steadily upon the line that the knot in it, which Dickory had not tied properly, became a slipknot, and the poor fellow’s breath was nearly squeezed out of him as he was hauled over the rough water. When he reached the vessel’s side there was something said about lowering a ladder, but the men who were hauling on the line were in a hurry to satisfy their curiosity, so up came Dickory straight from the water to the rail, and that proceeding so increased the squeezing that the poor fellow fell upon the deck scarcely able to gasp. When the rope was loosened the half-drowned and almost breathless Dickory raised himself and gave two or three deep breaths, but he could not speak, despite the fact that a dozen rough voices were asking him who he was and what he wanted.
With the water pouring from him in streams, and his breath coming from him in puffs, he looked about him with great earnestness.
Suddenly a man rushed through the crowd of pirates and stooped to look at the person who had so strangely come aboard. Then he gave a shout. “It is Dickory Charter,” he cried, “Dickory Charter, the son o’ old Dame Charter! Ye Dickory! an’ how in the name o’ all that’s blessed did ye come here? Master Bonnet! Master Bonnet!” he shouted to the captain, who now stood by, “it is young Dickory Charter, of Bridgetown. He was on board this vessel before we sailed, wi’ Mistress Kate an’ me. The last time I saw her he was wi’ her.”
“What!” exclaimed Bonnet, “with my daughter?”
“Ay, ay!” said Greenway, “it must have been a little before she went on shore.”
“Young man!” cried Bonnet, stooping towards Dickory, “when did you last see my daughter? Do you know anything of her?”
The young man opened his mouth, but he could not yet do much in the way of speaking, but he managed to gasp, “I come from her, I am bringing you a message.”