03/01/2007 - Matthew strived to keep his eyes on Crayford, pausing only to defend himself as he wrestled his way through the tumultuous crowd with increasing difficulty as the battle raged around him. He wasn't sure what Crayford was trying to do, but he knew that he couldn't be trusted. He wondered why Crayford had turned on the crew or if he was ever with them in the first place. From where Matthew stood, he could catch glimpses of Crayford's dark hair through the shifting people. He was heading toward the stairwell. Matthew increased his pace as he continued the pursuit, until he was grabbed from behind and forced into a hand to hand fight for survival.
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Charlotte watched anxiously as the pirate continued to descend the stairway toward her Papa, Jikes and herself. Fear had not been a stranger to her over the past numerous weeks, but she felt it intensify as he drew closer. She could see that her Papa's pistol was still holstered at his side and his sword would be little protection against a gunshot. Praying desperately she shifted her attentions to the barred door that separated her from the three men. She knew that she did not have very much to offer in the way of strength, but whatever she could do to help, she would without hesitation if she only was able to loosen the door. She tried to pick at the lock discreetly and cast frequent glances up to be certain their adversary hadn't noticed what she was attempting. It would give her the advantage if he was not aware she was free. As she kept dilligently at her task a motion caught her attention. She glanced down and locked her gaze with Jikes, who winked and then reassumed the appearance of helplessness. Charlotte looked up at the other pirate again, who was now about seven feet away from her father and did not appear to have noticed the exchange.
The pirate raised his weapon and placed his finger on the trigger. A shot resounded and Charlotte screamed. She clapped her hands over her ears and squeezed her eyes shut. She felt strong hands grasp her shoulders through the bars and hold firmly. She tried to pull away, to no avail. "Charlotte, it's okay! Charlotte, it's me!" she heard a gentle voice say. When she opened her eyes she saw that it was her father's hands she'd felt. She reached out and embraced him to the best of her ability through the cold bars that didn't phase her at all. She saw Jikes behind him and did not look in the direction of their former threat, but deduced in her head the conclusion of the circumstance.
"Jikes! Where are the keys to this?" Captain Rogers exclaimed as he returned to the task of setting Charlotte free.
"The Cap'n has 'em!" Jikes replied.
"Go get them quickly!" Captain Rogers shouted. "No, wait!" he exclaimed. He pulled out his pistol, cocked and blasted the lock. Charlotte pushed the door open and took her father's hand as the three of them made their way toward the deck. At the foot of the staircase, Jikes hesitated. The Captain and Charlotte, who had already halfway ascended, paused when they realized he wasn't keeping the pace.
"Jikes! Come on!" Charlotte called.
"He's still alive!" Jikes said running back into the corner where the pirate who had threatened them lay. "It's Bill! I have to do what I can!"
"Be careful!" The Captain replied. "We'll meet you on the other ship."
Matthew's eyes frantically scanned the crowd as he continued to push his way through. After his struggle with one of the opposing men he had lost sight of the soldier who had once been his friend. Matthew thought back to the last time he had seen Crayford. The stairwell! He reacalled. Charlotte! Immediately he directed his efforts to arriving below deck before Crayford. He nearly collided with Charlotte and Captain Rogers when the three of them arrived at the top of the staircase simultaneously. Instinctively he grasped the Captain's shoulders and the Captain did the same. "Matthew!" he exclaimed.
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"Are you two alright?" Matthew asked between breaths. The Captain didn't reply, but motioned toward the dark lower level. "Jikes needs some help," he said.
Without a word Matthew squeezed his way past and then turned around to shout after the Captain and his daughter who were already disappearing into the crowd. "Crayford is loose!" he exclaimed. He saw Charlotte turn in surprise and her father put his arm around her shoulder to keep her moving.
Then he ran down the stairs. At the bottom, he found Jikes struggling to help the injured pirate. Without a second thought he offered assistance, for he had duly noted the lesson from the Captain to always give people a second chance. Had it not been for Jikes, they may not have found the Silverado in the first place. Between the two men they reached the deck within a few minutes. The battle had died down. Captain Roger's crew appeared to be retreating, so Jikes and Matthew increased their pace.
Once aboard their own ship, Matthew immediately began the task of tending to the wounded. Duke, Bill and even Jikes needed some attention as did a number of the rest.
"Is Charlotte alright?" Duke inquired when Matthew came to him on his circuit from patient to patient.
This was the first time Matthew had thought of Charlotte since they boarded the ship. He scanned the deck, but didn't see her. "I'm sure she's fine," he said trying to be comforting as he returned to the task at hand.
"And the Captain, is he alright?"
Matthew spotted one of the able-bodied soldiers approaching. "Where's the Captain?" he aked. From a kneeling position, he caught the man's pantleg as he walked briskly past.
"We don't know; that's what we're trying to find out."
Matthew was confused. He and Duke exchanged glances. "But I saw him!" Matthew insisted. "He had Charlotte and they were headed this way. Isn't that why we retreated? Charlotte's safety? Charlotte will know where he is!"
"That's what concerns us," the soldier said without inflection. The man turned to leave, but Matthew jumped up and detained him.
"What's going on?" he asked seriously.
"Charlotte's not here -- and neither is Crayford."
...continued next month