A Pirate's Tale – Part IX
The Robertson Heritage, Part IX
05/01/2008 - Special thanks to one of our faithful readers, Rachel Tenney, for her editorial comments and contributions!
"Papa, May we take a journey, please?"
Captain Rogers looked up from his desk. Charlotte rarely disturbed him when he was writing in the study, so he knew what she approached him with must be of significant importance to her.
He turned to face his daugher and beckoned her closer. When she stood beside his chair, he took both of her small, fair hands in his and smiled. He knew what a hard time this had to be for her and understood why she might want to take a trip for a while.
"I would love for us to take a journey together if I can arrange it, Angel. Where would you like to go?"
Captain Rogers raised his eyebrows. "I see," he said softly. "Now I understand."
"Please, Papa, please? I'm so worried about Jikes! He's been gone for so long! In the letter he said that Crayford was there! What if something has happened? We haven't heard from him for some time and it's not like him at all, Papa!"
"My dearest, I would give you the moon if I could," Captain Rogers smiled gently, "but I'm afraid Puerto Vista is a place I just can't take you."
Charlotte's lower lip trembled slightly as he continued. "You know if Crayford is there, it is the last place in the world I could take my girl in good conscience after his attempt on your life. Charlotte..."
The captain hated to disappoint her so, but he couldn't see why she didn't understand. "I'm just trying to protect you, Child."
Charlotte brushed the tears from her cheeks. "Jikes is getting along in years and he is so important to Duke, so he's important to me. I just want to know he is safe," she pleaded.
The captain looked down at the mention of Duke's name and Charlotte knew his thoughts. "Duke is alive, Papa."
Captain Rogers stood and kissed his daughter's forehead. "I have to leave, Angel. I'll be back this evening. Don't you ever let go of your passionate heart, and if there's anywhere else in the world you wish for me to take you, say the word and we'll take the journey."
Charlotte watched her father leave the study and then wandered out herself. She wasn't planning on going anywhere in particular, but she found herself walking the beach as she often did when deep in thought. Duke was going to build a house for Charlotte and himself on the beach. He had poured everything he had into making it wonderful, so that after the wedding, they would have a place to call their own. It was almost finished and it was only a short distance away, just over the hill.
Charlotte was afraid to go there, but at the same time, she longed to. She used to visit Duke occasionally as he worked there. She would bring him freshly cooked food and lemonade she had made herself. Since Duke had been gone, she hadn't seen the place. She avoided it on purpose, but not today.
A lump rose in her throat as she crested the slope that overlooked the unfinished home. She remembered coming over it almost every day and seeing him hammering or sawing or some such thing. He was always happy there and when he looked up and saw her, he would smile in a way that said she was the most wonderful woman in the world.
She continued her approach and found one of the downstairs areas that was still mostly beams and framework, without walls. She leaned against one of the support planks and ran her hands over the wood. It was so perfectly sanded. It felt smooth and secure. She was too caught up in her thoughts to notice a few drops of rain begin to fall. She just stayed there leaning against the beam and prayed for Duke. She prayed he was safe and that he would come back soon, just like he said he would.
"What was that all about?" Matthew laughed. "That was the most pathetic act I've ever seen!"
"Well, it worked, didn't it?" Duke said, standing up and brushing himself off.
"I don't know about that!" Matthew sighed. His tone wasn't optimistic as he and Duke began to bind the wrists of their former cabin mates. "The crew wants the two of us dead – especially you."
"Yes, but you're the one with the medical experience," Duke insisted. "They think these two men and I are deathly ill. They wouldn't risk killing you until they're certain their people are safe!"
"Their people?" Matthew replied cynically. "And how have we observed General Bainbridge handle his people?" Duke didn't speak. "I don't see why they would treat them differently than the general seems to treat everyone so far..." Matthew went on, "...expendable! Unless..."
"Unless what?" As he spoke, Duke removed his belt and placed it around the mouth of the man who had been his cabin mate. When he finished tying it in place, he sat back on his heels and whispered to Matthew, "We have even less time than we thought. What's our next move? We're here to make a plan, let's make one. We can't expect to defeat the entire crew ourselves. It has to be methodical."
"You need to die." Matthew's reply came without a moment's thought and Duke was taken aback until he realized what his partner meant.
"You think the reason they're against us has to do with my father's fortune?" Duke mused aloud.
"What else could it be?"
"So they want to get rid of the heir..." Duke closed his eyes as he pondered the possibilities. "I would no longer be around to disprove their claim to the fortune – but what claim could they possibly have? Crayford is the one who has my key."
"Who knows, but I think it's clear you're the reason they're so concerned about us being aboard. They even knew your name."
One of the crewmembers stirred and Duke and Matthew exchanged a wary expression. "Then again, he did try to kill me in my sleep," Matthew said in a low tone, pointing to the one who had been assigned as his cabin mate.
"Well, we just need to make it as far as Puerto Vista."
"You say 'just' as if it isn't far. A few days would seem like a short joy-trip, but this is hardly enjoyable...even though that whole charade you threw was mildly entertaining."
Duke gave Matthew a half-playful, half-reproving punch in the shoulder. "Will you cut it out?" he said, "I'm trying to be serious here!"
"Well you're not doing a very good job," Matthew laughed under his breath. "I almost lost it when you were rolling on the floor moaning like that at my feet!"
"I was just relieved to see you alive!" Duke said, shaking his head in awe of the night's events. "I wasn't sure if you would be awake or not, but after my 'friend' made a murder attempt on me, I knew neither of us could consider ourselves safe here."
"Didn't know if I was awake? I couldn't sleep a wink! I was actually trying to explore the room a little and see what I could uncover when he jumped me." Matthew said, pointing to the man, bound hand-and-foot on the ground.
"So was I!" Duke exclaimed, "And I almost forgot about what I found! You have to get it!"
"What was it?"
"I don't know, but it was important." Matthew gave Duke a skeptical look until he said, "Lock-and-key-important."
"Guilty as charged!" Jikes winced as the judge's gavel slammed down, echoing Jikes conviction.
Jikes had known his case was weak. He had only tried to maintain the hope that by some miracle, Duke could have arrived in time, but Jikes didn't know if Duke was still alive and he doubted it more with each passing day. There was no way to mistake the fact that Duke was Harold's son. At this point he would be the only proof. Jikes had no witnesses and no one to vouch for the fact that he hadn't murdered Duke. He hadn't even murdered Crayford. Crayford had died accidentally by a stab wound from his own knife.
"He is to be hanged at dawn," the judge continued. "This court is adjourned."
Jikes looked pleadingly at Harold seated near the front of the courtroom. He had explained everything to the man, but Harold couldn't bring himself to believe the truth. Their eyes met for only a moment and Jikes saw something change in the man's expression, but he didn't have time to discern what. Harold quickly averted his eyes and the officers approached to take Jikes back to his lonely cell to wait.
"That was close," Matthew whispered, leaning against the cabin door he had just shut behind him.
"Did you find it?" Duke said, rising from a hidden spot where he had been waiting with the two "sick" crew men.
Matthew pressed a finger to his lips and produced the small black box Duke had found earlier that night.
Duke sat down beside Matthew on one of the cots and lifted the lid. Matthew was surprised to see the papers Duke had discovered inside. "I wonder what is so important about these?" he said.
Paper gold, me lad, paper gold! The words from an inmate back in San Mateo echoed through Duke's mind. No, it can't be! He thought. My father's maps? They were burned in the fire on Marooner's Point that day...or were they? Had that chest Charlotte found just been empty all along?
"Are these what I think they are?" Matthew's voice wavered in shock.
Duke couldn't speak. Each map had two initials in the very bottom corner: H.R. The handwriting was almost identical to his own. "It's true, then...my father was a pirate! He made these maps. Now all Bainbridge needs is the key."
"No, that's not all he needs," Matthew said, handing Duke a letter he had found near the bottom. "I think this is the reason they were after your father."
As Duke read the words on the page, his eyes grew increasingly wider. Unbeknownst to Duke and Matthew, it was the last letter Crayford had ever penned. But that wasn't the significance it held to Duke. It was something much deeper. Now he understood.
...continued next month