My recent discovery of digital data that I thought had been forever lost has been like Christmas for me. I'm still opening presents! Among the many previously unpublished short stories (and more) is this, written on an old Compaq "luggable" computer, on 5 1/4-inch floppy disk. Wow, to think I wrote major passages of books on that machine.
"Pirate's Cove" was dedicated to, and very much about, my daughters Rachel and Katy, before their brother Calvin came along. To think Rachel has children of her own now, Bella and Livvie, Katy is engaged to be married, and Cal is of legal age...
G. Wayne Miller
One summer, Rachel and Katy's mom and dad had squirreled a little extra money away. They decided to rent a cottage in Maine for two weeks. It was a big old place right on the coast and it had three chimneys, two gables and a big red barn. Dana Holbrook, the caretaker, said a sea captain had built it back in those long-ago days when all the ships had sails.
``Is it haunted?'' Rachel, 9, asked Dana, who was opening the cottage up. The Mortons had arrived that afternoon from Connecticut, where they lived in an almost-new house.
``Nope,'' said Dana.
``Not even by a friendly ghost?'' said Katy, who was 5. Already, she wasn't too sure she wanted to sleep in the kids' room on the second floor. It was too close to the attic, which had a single window with a faded blue curtain.
``Not even by a friendly ghost,'' said Dana. ``But I know about a cove where a pirate buried gold. Maybe tonight, when you're all moved in, I could tell you the story.''
Dana was a very nice man, the Mortons quickly decided. In the winter, he taught seventh and eighth grade in the elementary school, which had only 45 students, total. In the summer, he was a caretaker for several places. He also went lobstering every day. He lived just down the road in a house almost identical to the one the Mortons had rented.
``Can you tell us about the pirates now?'' Rachel said that evening after dinner, when Dana dropped by to check on how everything was going.
``That's up to your folks, I reckon.''
``Please, Dad?'' Katy said. Her hair was blonde, her eyes very green, and when she opened them wide like that, it was hard to refuse.
``Please, mom?'' said Rachel. She had brown hair, pretty pink eyeglasses and an angelic face, and it was just as hard to turn her down.
``OK,'' Mrs. Morton said.
``So long as it's not too scary,'' Mr. Morton added.
``Not scary 'tall,'' said Dana, settling into a chair. He was a big man, with long sandy hair, a beard with flecks of gray in it, and hands as big as baseball gloves.
``Leastaways, my kids never thought so.''
``His name was Black Skull,'' Dana began, ``and his father was a minister, his mother a seamstress.''
``What's a seamstress?'' Katy piped up.
``Someone who sews,'' said Mr. Morton. ``Now, shush. Let Mr. Holbrook finish his story.''
``There were six boys and six girls in his family,'' Dana went on, ``and all were highly quiet and reserved sorts. Only Black Skull seemed to march to the beat of a different drummer. At the age of 16, he left his home in Blue Hill -- that's just up the coast here, as you know from driving in, girls -- took the stage coach all the way down to New Bedford, and shipped out on the whaling vessel Bonnie B. Goode, which happened to have been captained by a gentleman from Maine.''
``Just like Moby Dick!'' Rachel said.
``Ayuh, just like the good Captain Ahab himself. For six years, Black Skull -- who was still called by his Christian name, Billy Bartlett -- was at sea, plying his trade all over the world. He was making good money, and like the good Mainer he was, he was stowing it away, thinking some day he might captain a vessel of his own. For if Black Skull was anything, he was the finest seaman around.''
Dana crossed and uncrossed his big legs, and then he crossed and uncrossed his arms. ``You wouldn't by any chance happen to have a cold one there in the rah-fridge-ear-ay-tuh?'' he said. Dana pronounced a lot of his words like they were from a foreign language, Katy and Rachel thought.
``To wet your whistle?'' said Mr. Morton. He was trying very hard to sound like Dana, but it wasn't working so hot, the girls thought.
Mr. Morton brought a beer for Dana, and one for himself. Mrs. Morton was sipping a glass of wine. The girls had tall tumblers of Cokes, which was an especially big treat, what with Mrs. Morton's concerns about sugar and caffeine.
``Now where was I?'' Dana said. ``Ayuh. I was up to the part where Black Skull's boat was sunk.
``So here he was, having worked himself up to first mate -- that's one step below captain, as you know, girls -- when one day, as they were off the coast off Patagonia -- that's way down South America way, as you may not know -- they were attacked by the worst sort of blood-thirsty pirates.''
``Was anybody killed?'' Rachel said.
``Did the boat sink?'' said Katy.
Dana took a generous swallow of beer and allowed: ``No to the first question, yes to the second. The pirates, who were heavily armed, plundered Black Skull's ship, taking all their gold. Then they put Black Skull and his crew in a dinghy -- that's nothing but a pipsqueak of a boat -- and cast them lose. Before they sailed away, they set the Boonie B. Goode afire.''
``Poor boat,'' Katy said.
``Poor Black Skull,'' said Rachel.
``Ayuh,'' said Dana. ``But it could have been much worse. Through some stroke of luck -- we all can use a stroke or two of luck every now and again, can't we girls? -- Black Skull and his men made it to the coast. After several months, they even made it back to Maine.
``Now, as you might imagine, it had been a trying experience for the men, and all but Black Skull decided they'd had enough of the sea. One became a cobbler--''
``What's a cobbler?'' Katy piped up.
``Someone who fixes shoes,'' Mrs. Morton said. ``Now shush.''
``And one became a merchant and the captain, who'd made more than one fortune, decided to retire. He took his wife and children and made himself a big house. And you're sitting in it now, the house the captain of the Bonnie B. Goode built.''
``Wow!'' Katy said.
``What happened to Black Skull?'' Rachel said.
``Funny you should ask,'' said Dana. ``Black Skull never could forget how they'd all almost died, cast adrift like that hundreds of miles in the middle of nowhere. He vowed revenge on that scurvy band of pirates and with an expedition in mind, he went to the U.S. Navy. But the Navy wasn't interested in chasing pirates way off the coast of South America -- although I suppose it would've been different if it'd been the American coast -- so Black Skull was out of luck there.
``In fact, it seemed he was out of luck everywhere. Time went by, and it became clear if Black Skull was to have his way, he'd have to marshal his own resources.
``Lord knows how, but somehow he managed to borrow enough money to buy a boat of his own. It wasn't anything special, only a two-master, sixty feet if that, but it would do. Using his savings, he outfitted her with salt cod and limes and water and hardtack -- that's a fancy name for biscuits, girls -- and then he brought aboard a trunk full of muskets and three old cannons he'd bought second-hand. He raised the American flag and, beside it, a black skull against white. That's how he got his name, as you might have guessed. Lord knows how, but he managed to get a crew of a dozen men, as well. I suspect he made the rounds of saloons, bearing promises of easy gold.''
Dana was warming up to his story now.
``They sailed on Christmas morn and they made decent time, arriving off South America in under two months. Their luck was good. Within a week, they'd found that pirate ship, lying in wait for a Spanish boat loaded with gold doubloons. Black Skull fired a warning shot with one of his cannons. The pirates were in retreat. But they were not fast enough for Black Skull. In under an hour, he had 'em broadside. The pirates surrendered.''
``Did he sink their ship?'' Rachel said.
``Did he kill the pirates?'' Katy chirped up.
``Yes to the first and no to the second. Just as they'd done to him, he set the pirates loose in their dinghy and said, `Good luck, you're on your own now.' Or something to that effect; I imagine his actual words were a might more blunt. As they were going through the ship, they found--''
``Gold?'' Rachel said.
``Ayuh, chests and chests full of gold. There was gold jewelry, gold doubloons, gold bars from the Incas and the Aztecs and the Amazons. But they also found something else.''
``What?'' said Katy.
``Kids,'' said Dana. ``Two little kids: a boy and a girl, not much older than you yourselves.''
``Where'd they come from?''
``From another boat they'd plundered, naturally,' Dana said. ``Why the pirates had let them live -- never mind brought them on board -- were questions no one could ever answer. My own guess is they planned to raise them for slaves.
``Now Black Skull -- who, as you might recall, came from a family of 12 -- was immediately taken with the children. He knew how lonely and sad they must have been, orphaned so sudden and cruel like that. And so, just before he sent that pirates' ship to Davy Jones locker, he adopted those kids as his own.''
``He was very nice,'' Katy said.
``I suspect any man worth his salt would have done the same. Like I told you, Black Skull was a good pirate. Weren't never any other kind to come from the state of Maine.''
``Is that the end of the story?'' Rachel said.
``Almost,'' Dana said. ``All that's left is to tell you what Black Skull did with his gold. When he got back to Maine, he paid off his crew handsomely -- not a one ever had to work another day in his life -- and then he buried what was left -- chests and chests of gold -- in his secret cove. He built a house down the road a bit and set about raising his children. Once a year, when he needed money, he would go to his secret cove -- all alone, of course -- and dig up only what he needed. Legend has it that when he died, there was still seven chests left.''
``Awesome!'' Rachel said.
``Where's the gold now?'' Katy said.
``I figured you'd ask that,'' said Dana. ``Still somewhere in that cove. As to where, exactly, no one knows -- though that hasn't stopped folks from looking. I bet your folks might even let you look one of these days. And while you may never find Black Skull's gold, I can guarantee you'll find the best hard-shell clams anywhere on the East Coast. Make a fine chowder. You like chowder, girls?''
``Yuk,'' they said together.
``We like Spaghetti-Os.''
``We like chowder,'' said Mr. Morton.
``Love it, in fact,'' said his wife. ``With lobster.''
``Good enough,'' Dana said. ``'Course, you won't find Pirate's Cove on any map. Only the old-timers know where 'tis.''
Before he bid them goodnight, Dana gave the Mortons directions to Pirate's Cove.
Two days later, after checking the tide chart, Mr. Morton and Rachel and Katy set off for Pirate's Cove. Mrs. Morton was gone for the day. She'd looked up an old college friend in Bangor and the two of them were off for some shopping.
The path to Pirate's Cover was an old fire road, but it had been years since it had been cut back. Pines and oaks formed a canopy overhead, blotting out the bright blue sky. Mr. Morton had to be careful not to let branches snap in the girls' faces as they started toward the sea.
``Look, Dad, blueberries!'' Rachel said.
``Maybe another day we can pick some,'' Mr. Morton said. ``Today we're going for clams.''
``And gold,'' said Katy.
``Silly, there isn't any gold,'' said Rachel. ``And there wasn't any Black Skull. That was just a story, right Dad?''
``I don't know about that,'' said Mr. Morton. ``I kind of believed Mr. Holbrook.''
``Look,'' he said. ``There's the cove, straight ahead. Be careful on those rocks, girls.''
The cove was even prettier than Dana had described. There were no houses anywhere in sight, only a thick blanket of evergreen bordering the rocks. Below the rocks was the beach: white sand littered with mussel and clam shells. The tide was low. Kelp was everywhere. The flats extended out toward a small island. At low-low tide, Dana had said, you could walk over.
``Perfect for clams,'' Mr. Morton said.
``Perfect for hermit crabs,'' said Rachel.
``Perfect for gold,'' said Katy. ``I hope I find a gold bracelet.''
The girls, each with a shovel and bucket, fanned out across the flats. Mr. Morton started digging with his rake. Dana hadn't been fooling. The clams were almost as plentiful as the sand. In ten minutes, his basket was half full.
``Find any gold?'' Mr. Morton asked.
``Nah,'' said Katy.
``Well you've certainly dug deep enough.''
``Can we go out to the island?'' Rachel said.
``Yeah, can we, Dad?''
``OK. Just be careful on the rocks.''
The island was even better than the flats, the girls agreed. Sitting on its shore, the sky looked as big as the whole world. And the water was blue and perfectly still; only a few lobster pots disturbed the surface. Rachel found a horseshoe crab and a lobster claw. Katy found several green stones, for her rock collection.
``It's almost as good as gold,'' she said, dropping them into her bucket.
``I've never had a horseshoe crab before,'' said Rachel. ``I've always wanted one.''
``And I have more than enough clams for the best chowder this side of Boston,'' Mr. Morton said. ``Now it's time to go. The tide's coming in and we don't want to get stranded.''
``Because Black Skull might get us,'' Rachel said. ``Dana said to this day, he watches over his gold.''
``But he's a nice pirate,'' Katy protested.
``Yes he is,'' Mr. Morton said. ``Let's get a move on.''
Nobody saw Katy fall.
One minute she was starting down a huge seaweed-covered rock. The next minute, she was at the bottom, crying and clutching her ankle.
``Katy, are you all right?'' Mr. Morton was upset. ``Oh, God. I never should have let you climb up there!''
Katy only cried.
As soon as he had a close look at her ankle, Mr. Morton knew. ``It's broken,'' he said.
``Poor Katy,'' Rachel said. ``Did she hit her head?''
``I don't think so,'' Mr. Morton said. ``Did you, honey?''
Katy shook her head. ``It hurts,'' she cried.
``I know it, honey. But the doctor will fix it up fine.''
``I don't want any needles!''
``You won't have to have any,'' Mr. Morton said. ``But we'll have to get you to a hospital.''
``Can she walk?''
``I'll have to carry her,'' Mr. Morton said. He hugged Katy. ``There, there, everything's going to be OK.''
He picked his daughter up. It had been a long time since he'd carried her any distance and the last year had been a growth spurt for Katy. ``Like a weed,'' the family liked to joke. But there was no choice. They could wait days in Pirate's Cove before anyone came along.
Dana happened to drive by when Mr. Morton was loading Katy into the car back at the house. He gave Mr. Morton directions to Blue Hill Hospital and gave Katy his word that the doctors and nurses there were the nicest in the world.
``You know,'' he said, pulling Mr. Morton aside, ``I feel responsible. All that talk of Black Skull.''
``Don't be ridiculous,'' Mr. Morton said.
``You didn't even get your chowder.''
``You're right,'' Mr. Morton said. ``In our rush, we left everything behind.''
``Come on, Dad,'' Rachel said.
``You sure you don't want to ride with me?'' Dana said one final time.
``We're all set,'' Mr. Morton said. ``If you can just make sure their mother sees my note. I didn't have her number.''
They were three hours at the hospital. Katy got crutches and the nurse gave both girls giant lollipops. The doctor was the first to sign Katy's cast, which she would be wearing until just before kindergarten started in the fall.
``Watch that step!'' the doctor wrote.
Mrs. Morton was still out shopping when they got home. But somebody had been busy inside the cottage. A full pot of chowder was steaming on the stove and there were two fresh-caught two-pound lobsters and a big can of Spaghetti-Os in the refrigerator. The table was set and there was a bottle of wine and a six-pack of Coke.
But the biggest surprise was Rachel's bucket of shells and Katy's bucket of rocks, just as they'd left them at Pirate's Cove. Next to each bucket was a necklace and a bracelet.
``Gold!'' the girls gushed.
``And look at this,'' Mr. Morton said, picking up a note written in large, black letters. Across the top was a skull and cross bones.
``Dear Rachel and Katy,'' Mr. Morton read.
``Couldn't help but feel bad about how your visit to my cove turned out. Can't give you all my gold, but I hope this will help.
Enjoy your stay in Maine.
``Signed, Black Skull.
``P.S. Katy. Have your dad sign your cast for me.''
Written in a haunted house on Buck’s Harbor, Maine, in August 1990.