COPYRIGHT, 1941, BY
THOMAS NELSON & SONS
To cXy 'Daughter
who, while somewhat younger than Yane or
Jack, had many similar adventures
among the Virgin Islands.
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
FATHER BRINGS EXCITING NEWS I
SOUTH TO THE CARIBBEAN 15
SAILING SUNNY SEAS 26
THE NINETY-NINE STEPS 45
DWELLERS OF THE DEEP 62
BLACKBEARD THE PIRATE 78
FORGOTTEN ISLAND IOI
MAROONED AT CORAL BAY 121
UNDERWATER ADVENTURES 140
CRUISING ALONG DRAKE'S CHANNEL 157
THE SECRET OF NORMAN ISLAND 173
ST. CROIX 195
OBEAH MURDER 207
THE GREAT WIND 227
HOMEWARD BOUND 245
Father Brings Exciting News
Jack Conover hitched his school books under
his arm and sank his chin deeper into the upturned
collar of his raincoat. He had a good half mile
uphill to go before reaching home and the chill
March rain was beating full in his face.
"Mother will be mad when she sees me sopping
wet like this," he said to himself. "She told me
to take an umbrella and rubbers when I went to
school this morning."
Jack trudged on up the hill, planning fair words
to use on his mother to avoid her displeasure.
Perhaps he could distract her attention by telling
her that Coach Robbins had praised him at basket-
ball practice and said that if he kept on shooting
baskets as well as he'd been doing, he was sure to
make center position next year.
This prospect cheered him and he began whis-
tling a new tune between his teeth. He knew it
was off key. He never could carry a tune-like his
For a lad who had just passed his thirteenth
birthday, Jack was tall for his age. His father
was six feet one and Jack, with five feet seven,
hoped that, by the time he was ready for college,
he would match his father's height.
Mr. Conover was one of the members of a New
York City engineering firm which specialized in
large construction projects: great dams, bridges,
highways, tunnels, pipe lines, docks and industrial
buildings of many kinds. He had traveled in
many parts of the world and could tell interesting
stories of strange lands and peoples.
The main trouble with his father's business, Jack
thought, was that he was frequently away from
home for months at a time, in the most out-of-the-
way places where it was impossible to take the
family. Of course he wrote long letters and often
enclosed rare and interesting stamps. But that
was mild compared to the thrill of actually being
in those places and seeing all the fascinating sights
through one's own eyes. Maybe some day
Jack rushed up the long flight of stairs leading
to the porch of his home, shook the water from
his raincoat and quietly opened the front door.
The living-room was empty. A rattle of dishes
from the kitchen told him that his mother was,
Father Brings Exciting News
as usual, supervising the preparations of Annie,
He tiptoed through the hall and hung his drip-
ping coat and hat at the top of the cellar stairs
where they would soon dry out. As he made his
way back again, hoping that he could gain his own
room without being observed, he heard his mother's
"Is that you, Jack?"
"Yes, Mother," he replied, and edged closer to
the stairs, praying that she would not come out
and see his sodden shoes and wet trousers.
"I'm going right up to get ready for dinner," he
said in his best 'obedient-boy' tone, then dashed up
"-and be sure to brush your hair," his mother's
voice floated after him.
She mentioned his finger nails, too, but he was
now in the upper hall and did not hear. As he
passed Jane's room, he stopped and looked in.
Jane was standing in front of her mirror tidying
her brown wavy hair.
"Hiya, Sis!" he said. "Didja get wet coming
"I should say not!" Jane retorted. "Kathy's
mother brought us home in her car after orchestra
4 Buccaneer Islands
practice." She glanced down at Jack's shoes.
"What have you been doing-wading?"
Jack grinned. "All right, all right," he an-
swered. "Maybe I did forget my rubbers but just
remember to keep quiet about it at dinner."
If anyone had seen the two Conover children to-
gether, they would hardly have taken them for
brother and sister. In contrast to blond Jack's tall,
angular frame, Jane was short and inclined to
Although few of her family or friends would
have called Jane pretty, they all agreed that she
was a good-looking girl. Her frank blue eyes
looked out on the world from a round, pleasant
face whose chief asset was a clear complexion
and a wealth of natural coloring.
In contrast to her brother's volatile disposition
and occasional bursts of temper, Jane was calm
and gentle. She had a practical turn of mind
which often was of great assistance in converting
Jack's highly original and imaginative ideas into
something really worthwhile. Jack relied on his
sister's advice and Jane felt pleased and proud
that she could have a share in some of his activities.
They had had a number of exciting adventures to-
gether and Jack said more than once that Jane
Father Brings Exciting News
"knew how to keep her head in a tight pinch,"
words which to Jane were as welcome as a medal
A murmur of voices floated up the stairs. Jane
heard her father's deep tones and the door of the
coat closet open and close. She gave her hair a
final pat and hurried downstairs, with Jack close
Dinner began in the usual quiet way. Mother
talked about the meeting at the Woman's Club
and Jane had a good deal to tell about orchestra
practice. Father had little to say. No one thought
this unusual, for he always came home hungry and
reserved most of his conversation until after the
meal was over.
At last Jack had an opportunity to launch into
a glowing account of basketball practice and the
complimentary remarks of the coach.
"He said if I keep on handling the ball the way
I've been doing lately and shooting baskets with
such deadly aim, I'm sure of center position next
year!" Jack made the announcement triumphantly,
scooping the last of his dessert into his mouth.
"Good lad," said his father with a smile. "But
I'm afraid you're not going to play on the team
Jack's jaw dropped. He looked at his father
in amazement. Jane clutched at her napkin.
Mrs. Conover appeared genuinely startled.
"Why, Dad!" exclaimed Jack. "What do you
mean? I'm sure of a place on the team-and I've
worked like a dog all season. The coach-"
Mr. Conover pushed back his dessert plate and
looked around the table at his puzzled family.
"It's too bad for you, Jack," he said, "but you
can't play on the team next year, for we won't be
living in Hastings then."
"For goodness sake, Henry," said Mrs. Conover,
"don't keep us in suspense like this. What is this
Apparently Mr. Conover was enjoying the ef-
fects of his remarks, for he gave a deep-throated
laugh and rubbed his hands vigorously.
"Start packing your tooth brushes and pajamas,
boys and girls," he chuckled, "because we're off
for the Virgin Islands! The boat sails in ten
"Henry, are you serious?" gasped Mrs. Con-
"Of course, I am!" he answered. "You and
Jack and Jane have always felt badly because I
kept traveling to far places and never took you
Father Brings Exciting News
along. Now we're going together-all of us. And
I expect we'll have a corking good time!"
"The Virgin Islands!" repeated Jane dreamily.
"They sound adventuresome."
"Oh, boy!" added Jack, "I'll bet there's good
fishing down there."
Mrs. Conover motioned the children to silence
and turned to her husband. "It sounds wonder-
ful, to be sure," she remarked brightly. "But tell
us all the news. Why are we going? How long
will we be there? What do we need to take
"It's been brewing quite a long time," Mr.
Conover replied. "I didn't say anything about it
at home until I was sure I would be assigned to
the work down there."
"You mean that your firm has been given a con-
struction contract in the Virgin Islands?" Mrs.
"Yes. Last year the government appropriated
funds for the construction of a large naval air sta-
tion and submarine base on the Island of St.
Thomas. Our firm put in a bid and it was ac-
cepted several weeks ago. Then it was up to the
president of our company to decide who was to go
down there to supervise the work. He knew I'd
visited the Virgin Islands several times, so he
asked me if I'd take charge. I told him I'd be
glad to-on one condition-that my family went
along, too. He said that could easily be arranged,
if you could be ready to start in ten days. It will
take more than a year to complete the construction
so you can look forward to a good long stay in
the Virgin Islands. We won't have to take any
furniture because we'll live in a furnished bunga-
low. All we'll need are linen and silver and our
summer clothes. So there you have the whole
story, my dears. How does it appeal to you?"
"Swell!" cried Jack. "I'd rather go exploring
down there than play on a dozen basketball teams."
"Marvelous!" chimed in Jane. "Imagine living
in the tropics!"
'should be delightful," agreed Mrs. Conover.
"Especially the winter-so sunny and warm!"
Everyone started talking at once and there was
a terrific hubbub until Mr. Conover commanded
"It's all very exciting, I know," he remarked.
"Yet I have an idea that you haven't much of an
idea of exactly where the Virgin Islands are."
"In the West Indies, of course," said Mrs. Con-
Father Brings Exciting News
"But exactly where?" persisted her husband.
"I always thought they were somewhere near
Cuba," she answered hesitatingly.
"Wrong!" grinned Mr. Conover.
"Off the coast of Venezuela?" ventured Jack.
"You're not even warm," said his father. "Have
you any ideas, Jane?"
"Aren't they part of the Leeward Islands?"
"You've come closer than anyone," her father
"Well, tell us, then," said Jane.
Mr. Conover looked at his daughter quizzically
and remarked, "wouldn't it be more fun to find
out for yourself? How about that encyclopedia
you and Jack got for Christmas?"
"Sure-let's," exclaimed Jack, dragging his
sister from her chair and pushing her toward the
bookcase in the living-room.
"All this leaves me a bit breathless," Mrs. Con-
over remarked with a sigh. "It's wonderful, but
it's all come so suddenly, so unexpectedly. There
will be a thousand and one things to be done before
we sail." She paused and a worried look came
into her eyes. "What about this house?" she
asked. "We can't just close it up, can we?"
"The company will take care of renting the
house to reliable tenants," Mr. Conover told her.
"As they are going to pay our rent in the Virgin
Islands, we'll actually be money ahead."
"That's splendid!" exclaimed Mrs. Conover.
"Now I can plan things without worrying about
There was a shout from the living-room.
"We've found it!" Jack's voice sounded very
"Found what?" asked Mrs. Conover.
"The Virgin Islands," called Jane.
"Bring the book in here and read it to us," sug-
gested Mr. Conover.
Jack marched into the dining-room, carrying
the book high above his head.
"Let me read it," Jane begged.
"No, I found the place," retorted Jack.
"That's not fair, Jack," cried Jane, "please, I
"Each read half," Mr. Conover said firmly.
The children ceased their dispute instantly.
"I'll start," said Jack, "because I found the
"All right," agreed Jane, "and don't read as if
you had mush in your mouth."
Jack gave her a withering glance and began in
his best school-room manner:
"Forty miles east of Puerto Rico lies a group of
picturesque islands, forming a bow with its convex
side stretching into the Atlantic Ocean and its
concave side washed by the Caribbean Sea. These
are the Virgin Islands of the West Indies. They
are 1,400 miles southeast of New York and about
700 miles due south of Bermuda. The American
Virgin Islands comprise some 40 islands and cays.
The principal islands are St. Thomas (12 miles
long) St. John (9 miles long) and St. Croix (20
miles long). These three islands cover an area of
133 square miles and have a population of (1930
census) 22,012. About 98 per cent are negroes or
of mixed blood; the rest are whites.
"While the islands export only small quantities
of bay rum, sugar, rum and vegetables, they are
important chiefly because they stand at one of the
gateways to the Caribbean Sea and the Panama
Canal. As part of the government's defense policy,
the Virgin Islands have been included in plans
for strengthening the eastern approaches to the
Jack stopped reading and pushed the book
across the table to his sister.
"Now it's your turn," he said. "And don't use
that silly babyish voice I've heard you use when
you want to make an impression."
Jane ignored this last remark and read slowly
"The town of Charlotte Amalie is the capital
and chief port of the Virgin Islands. Official
records indicate that the climate is unsurpassed.
A rainy day is rare, as sufficient rainfall is pro-
vided by light showers which last but a few mo-
ments and pass, leaving a clear blue sky dotted
with snow-white clouds. The temperature rarely
drops below 70 degrees in winter or rises above
90 degrees in the summer.
"The Virgin Islands, formerly known as the
Danish West Indies, were purchased by the United
Father Brings Exciting News
States from Denmark in 1917 for twenty-five mil-
lion dollars. In 1931 jurisdiction over them was
transferred from the Navy Department to the
Department of the Interior, with a civilian gover-
nor appointed by the President.
"A smaller group of islands, known as the British
Virgins and lying a few miles east of the American
group, have a combined area of 58 square miles and
a population of 6,ooo."
"It sounds like an interesting spot," said Jack
enthusiastically. "Think of all the places to ex-
plore, Jane. We may even dig up a pirate treasure
of golden doubloons and pieces of eight!"
"Where would we start looking for a treasure?"
asked Jane, her practical mind asserting itself.
"We'd have to have a treasure map, I suppose,"
answered Jack thoughtfully. "Some old sailor
might have one. I read a story once-"
Mrs. Conover glanced at the clock, and ex-
claimed, "My goodness! It's nearly ten-thirty.
To bed, both of you, and don't lie awake half the
night thinking about all the adventures you're
going to have. There's plenty of work ahead for
all of us, and you'll need all the sleep you can get."
"Gee, Dad," Jack whispered to his father, when
he said good night, "I'm mighty glad you're includ-
14 Buccaneer Islands
ing the family in this trip. I'll bet we'll see a lot
and learn a lot."
"That's right, son," smiled Mr. Conover. "New
lands, new faces, new customs, new points of view.
The time we shall spend in the West Indies will
be of value to us all. We'll broaden our horizons."
South to the Caribbean
Across the East River in Brooklyn, factory
whistles were tooting the noon hour. All along
Front Street on the Manhattan side, workmen and
stevedores stopped work, got out their lunch boxes,
and sat down comfortably among barrels, bales,
and boxes on the crowded docks. From some-
where nearby drifted the tantalizing odor of
freshly roasted coffee. This was New York's
famous waterfront, busy haven for ships from the
As the Conover's car threaded its way slowly
among the trucks and pedestrians on Front Street,
Jack and Jane felt their pulses quicken at the
thought that within a few hours they would actually
be at sea, bound for the sunny Caribbean.
"There's Pier 591" exclaimed Jack, pointing
"Yes, and I can see the masts of the S.S. Patricia
behind that long shed."
Mrs. Conover, at the wheel, glanced nervously
through the rear vision mirror to make sure all
was clear behind. Then she turned the car slowly
toward the pier. She had never driven through
the heavy traffic of this part of New York before
and she was anxious that nothing should happen
to prevent their safe arrival at the ship. An im-
portant conference at the office prevented Mr.
Conover from accompanying them, but he had
promised to be on board in plenty of time before
the ship sailed.
At a signal from the pier watchman, Mrs. Con-
over drove through the long shed and brought the
car to a stop near the gang-plank.
"There!" she exclaimed with a sigh of relief.
"We're here at last, safe and sound. Thank good-
ness, that's over!"
"You deserve a medal, Mother!" complimented
Jane. "You couldn't have done better if you'd
been a taxi driver!"
From the moment the three Conovers stepped
out of the car, things began to happen to them
quickly. First, the chief stevedore took charge
of the car and moved it close to the side of the
ship opposite the forward hold. Next, a Puerto
Rican steward gathered up the luggage and
escorted them to their cabins.
Everything about the ship was exciting and
South to the Caribbean
strange to the children, for they had never been
aboard a sea-going vessel before. They kept their
mother busy answering a flood of questions. Jack
was particularly keen about occupying the upper
berth. He liked the idea of using the small
ladder fixed to the side of the berth.
After luncheon in the ship's dining-room, Jack
and Jane set off for a tour of the Patricia. It was
to be their home for the next five days and they
wanted to be sure they knew their way about decks
before the ship weighed anchor.
As they looked down from the forward part
of the boat deck, they saw, far below, the
dark hold where stevedores were carefully
stowing boxes and crates and cases of mer-
chandise consigned to various West Indian ports.
The ship's cargo booms swung out over the
deck and picked up a huge packing case, and
then swung outboard again. At a signal from
the chiefstevedore, the case was carefully low-
ered into the hold.
Presently the boom swung once more to the dock
and a half dozen men began fixing a special sling
made from stout ropes.
"Look!" cried Jane. "They're going to lift our
Sure enough, after much heaving and pulling
and arranging of the sling, the great boom reared
itself slowly in the air. Gradually the lines tight-
ened and the Conover car was lifted gently from
the dock. It swayed dangerously for a moment
and then was skillfully maneuvered toward the
ship until it hung poised above the gaping hatch-
way. At a cry and a wave of the hand from the
chief stevedore, the car began a gradual descent
into the hold. A few moments later it reached the
bottom, placed there as gently as if it had been set
down by the fingers of a friendly giant.
"Pretty work," commented Jack. "They got
it down without a bang or a scratch." He turned
and motioned to his sister, "Come on," he said.
"Let's explore the boat deck."
An hour and a half later they realized that they
had been everywhere on the top side where pas-
sengers were allowed to go. When they asked the
steward if they could visit the engine room, he
explained that no one was allowed below while
the ship was in dock. Later, he promised, when
the ship was well at sea, the chief engineer would
show them the huge engines in operation.
At a loss to know what to do next, Jack and Jane
wandered back to their cabin. There they found
South to the Caribbean
a group of their parents' friends, come to see them
Mrs. Conover was being gracious, but Jane
could see that she was worried.
"What's troubling you? Is anything wrong?"
"It's quarter to five, and your father isn't here."
Mrs. Conover said in a low voice. "He said he'd
arrive promptly at four-thirty."
"Goodness!" exclaimed Jane. "And we sail in
"Oh, he'll show up," Jack remarked confidently.
"Come on, Jane," he added, "let's go up on deck
and watch for him."
As they stationed themselves near the gang-
plank, they could see that the ship was being made
ready to leave the dock. The captain stood on
the port wing of the bridge, issuing orders and
occasionally glancing at his watch. Stevedores
were hammering down the last of the battens on
the hatches, and seamen stood alertly at bow and
stern, ready to haul in the mooring lines the mo-
ment they were cast off from the dock. Friends
of the passengers were already leaving the ship
and grouping themselves on the dock, ready to
Presently came the steward's call, so familiar
aboard all departing ships: "All ashore that's
A few moments later the Conovers' friends came
on deck and with hurried farewells crossed the
gang-plank to the dock.
Mrs. Conover, now thoroughly alarmed, joined
her children at the rail.
"Something must have happened!" she said anx-
"Now don't get upset, Mother," soothed Jack.
"You'll see. He'll probably come dashing up just
when they're ready to hoist the gang-plank."
There was a sudden deafening blast from the
"Oh, dear!" wailed Mrs. Conover. "Quick,
Jack! Run to the captain. Ask him if he can't
hold the ship a few minutes!"
Jack pushed his way through the crowd at the
rail and dashed up the ladder to the bridge.
Scrambling up, fussed and embarrassed, he cried,
"Please, sir, Father is late. Mother wants to know
if you can't wait a few minutes. I'm sure he'll be
here any time now."
The captain shook his head.
"Sorry, my lad," he answered, "but the Patricia
South to the Caribbean 21
always sails on time. If we were to wait for every
passenger who is late we'd never get under way."
He turned and lifted his megaphone. "Cast off!"
"Yes, sir," Jack mumbled.
In stricken silence the three Conovers watched
the gang-plank lowered to the dock and heard the
farewell calls from the crowd that lined the pier.
Then came two short blasts from the ship's whistle.
A moment later the mooring lines splashed into
the water and were hauled aboard. The ship began
to vibrate gently as the propellers churned the
water, swinging the vessel's head away from the
pier. A widening gap of water appeared between
ship and shore, and the voices of the people on
the dock became fainter. At last all connection
with the land was severed. At last they were under
way-bound south to the Caribbean.
It was hardly the happy occasion the Conovers
had anticipated. Mrs. Conover tried her best
to be brave about it, but her anxiety was all too
"He has our tickets and practically all of our
money," she said in a worried tone. "I just don't
know what to do."
In spite of the worry over their father's absence,
Jack and Jane were thrilled with the panorama
that spread before them as the Patricia steamed
slowly down the East River toward New York
Bay. To the right, rose the great skyscrapers of
lower Manhattan, tinged with gold from the lower-
ing sun. To the left, stretched endless rows of
homes and factories over in Brooklyn. Tugs,
barges, ferries, and boats of all descriptions criss-
crossed the river, each busily engaged in carrying
cargo or passengers. Ahead, faintly outlined
against the sunset near the Jersey shore, was the
Statue of Liberty, dwarfed by distance.
After awhile Mrs. Conover said, "We had better
go inside, children. It's cold out here. Besides,
I want to find the captain and ask him what I
should do." She turned from the rail and was
about to enter the saloon when Jack clutched at
"Wait!" he cried. "Look! Off there! There's
a speed-boat overtaking us. Somebody's in the
All three rushed to the rail, straining their eyes
in an effort to make out the lone figure in the stern
of the speed-boat. The person kept signalling
with his hat as if in- an effort to attract the atten-
tion of the officers on the bridge.
As the little boat came closer, throwing up
showers of spray from its sharp bow, Jack gave a
whoop of joy. "It's Father!" he cried and dashed
off for the bridge.
"Thank heavens!" sighed Mrs. Conover.
"Where's Jack gone?"
"To tell the captain," answered Jane.
Sure enough, a moment later, the ship's tele-
graph changed to slow speed and two seamen hur-
ried to the port side with a pilot ladder. They
made it fast to the rail and lowered it until it
hung a few feet above the water. Cautiously the
speed-boat edged to the ship's side until it came
directly under the ladder. For a moment Mr.
Conover poised precariously on the gunwale and
then made a sudden leap for the ladder. His hands
caught at the sides and it looked for a moment as
if he would lose his grip and plunge into the water.
But he recovered himself quickly and climbed up
slowly, hand over hand, until he reached the deck.
Breathless but smiling, Mr. Conover exclaimed,
"I made it! Sorry to be late, but
"Thank God, you're safe," said Mrs. Conover.
"We were so worried. We didn't know what might
have happened to you."
"It was partly my own fault," explained Mr.
Conover. "I had a lot of last-minute things to
do, and allowed myself barely enough time to get
to the dock. Then my taxi got caught in a jam
of trucks on Front Street. By the time we got
untangled, the ship was out in the river."
"What did you do then?" demanded Jack ex-
"I rushed to the port captain's office," answered
Mr. Conover. "Told him I must catch the Pa-
tricia, and he was good enough to lend me his pri-
vate speed-boat. And here I am!"
"We're all together again," smiled Mrs. Con-
over, "and that's what matters."
An hour later the Patricia was well beyond
Sandy Hook. A few hundred feet off the port
side lay the pilot boat, pitching and tossing in the
South to the Caribbean
long swells that gave even the larger Patricia a
decided roll. A strong north-east wind was blow-
ing and storm clouds scudded low on the horizon.
Jack clutched the rail and stared down at the
"Gee whiz," he mumbled. "Do you suppose
we're going to be seasick?"
"Probably," said Jane calmly. "Most land-
lubbers like us are."
"I feel awful already," groaned her brother.
He swallowed convulsively. Jane saw that his
face was gradually turning a pale green.
"You'd better lie down," she said unsympa-
thetically, "or maybe you'll have an accident. The
captain might be awfully angry if anyone should
make a mess on the deck.
Jack gave a sudden howl of misery and dashed
for the cabin.
Sailing Sunny Seas
For four days the sturdy Patricia plowed
steadily south-east. The blustery weather off
Sandy Hook had turned into a real March gale
which lasted until the ship was well into the Gulf
Stream. Mrs. Conover and the children spent a
miserable two days, divided between spells of sea-
sickness and brave attempts to defy the elements.
Now at last the storm had disappeared. The sun
shone brightly on a sparkling calm blue sea and the
weather was like spring. The effect on the three
Conovers, and the other passengers as well, was
almost miraculous. Completely recovered, they
all came out into the sunshine, stretched them-
selves lazily in deck chairs and swarmed into the
dining-room with such lusty appetites that one
would never have dreamed they had suffered the
pangs of mal de mer.
Jack and Jane spent long hours watching the
curl of water that sprang away from the bow as it
cut cleanly through the sea. Occasionally they
would see a school of porpoises, whose shiny black
Sailing Sunny Seas
bodies leaped gracefully out of the water and
plunged in again, only to reappear a moment later
to repeat the performance over and over again.
Sometimes the porpoises would come close to the
bow, chasing each other like children playing tag.
Then off they would go, far away across the limit-
less expanse of the sea.
Captain Pierce, everyone agreed, was a jolly
fellow. He was full of stories about the Virgin
Islands and other ports of the West Indies. Jack
had thought him gruff and unfriendly on sailing
day, but since then, they had become great pals.
That evening after dinner, Jack asked Captain
Pierce when they would arrive at St. Thomas.
"About nine o'clock to-morrow morning," an-
swered Captain Pierce. "You don't want to miss
the first sight of the island. It's magnificent! You
and Jane meet me on the bridge promptly at six
o'clock-and you'll see something you'll always
"Thank you!" chorused Jack and Jane. "We'll
be there, right on time."
The ship's bell had scarcely finished striking
four times (four bells being the equivalent of six
o'clock, according to nautical practice) when Jack
and Jane bounced out on deck and scurried up
the ladder to the bridge. As they turned and
looked astern, they were thrilled with the colorful
scene that met their eyes. Far away on the horizon
towered the tall peaks of Puerto Rico, their sum-
mits lost in billowy masses of clouds. The sun was
just peeping over this great mountain range, cas-
cading shafts of gold into the valleys. The air was
soft and sweet with the smell of land.
"Isn't it perfectly lovely!" cried Jane. "I never
dreamed the tropics would be so beautiful."
"Yes," agreed Jack, "it takes your breath away."
"Ahoy, there, young 'uns!" called Captain
Pierce from the wing of the bridge. "Come over
here and take a look forward."
They moved to his side and followed his pointing
"See," he said. "That green ridge showing to
the south is St. Thomas, where you're going to
live. Can't make out much of it now, but you will
a little later. And over there," he pointed south-
west, "is the Island of Culebra. That belongs to
Puerto Rico. Between Culebra and St. Thomas
is the Virgin Passage which used to be a favorite
hunting ground for pirates and buccaneers."
"Wish I could have lived in those days," mused
Sailing Sunny Seas
Jack. "I'll bet there was plenty of excitement and
sea battles around here."
Captain Pierce smiled.
"Yes, indeed," he agreed, "especially when that
rogue Kofresi was cruising these waters."
"Who was he?" Jane and Jack asked together.
"He was a Puerto Rican and the most cruel and
desperate cut-throat who ever sailed hereabouts
during the 1820's," drawled the captain, puffing
on his pipe. "They say he scuttled many a prize
and buried his treasure of gold and gems in a deep
well somewhere back of the harbor of Culebra.
Nobody's ever found it, so there's still a chance
for you, Jack!"
"I like to go treasure-hunting just as much as
Jack," said Jane. "Even if I am a girl, I can dig!"
"Sure you can," said Captain Pierce.
He pointed again toward Culebra. "The navy
uses that island a good deal now," he remarked.
"It has a good harbor and, with Puerto Rico and
the Virgin Islands, it forms an important outpost
for the protection of the Panama Canal."
"You mean that if Panama were threatened from
the east, the enemy would be attacked from here
before he ever had a chance to get near the canal?"
"Exactly," said Captain Pierce. "Planes, sub-
marines, shore batteries, warships-all would let
loose on the enemy and drive him off."
Captain Pierce squinted at the southern horizon.
Then he called for his telescope, and looked
through it for a full minute. Presently he handed
it to Jane and remarked, "Here, my dear, take a
peak through this and tell me what you see."
At first Jane could see nothing, for it was hard
to close one eye and look with the other. But
soon she could make out a dim white shape.
"It looks like a sailing ship," she answered,
handing the telescope to Jack. "See if you think
Jack adjusted the telescope and nodded. "Yep,
looks to me like a schooner under full sail."
Captain Pierce smiled broadly.
"That's exactly what it looks like from this dis-
tance," he observed. "And a good many old salts
have been fooled, just as you were. Actually
when you get close, it's nothing but a bare, lonely
limestone rock jutting up out of the sea. It has
two sharp peaks which look like sails at this dis-
tance. Long ago someone named it Sail Rock,
and so it has remained ever since."
"Do we pass close to it?" asked Jack.
Sailing Sunny Seas
"Not very," answered Captain Pierce. "We
change course further east. But one time, long
ago, a captain who was searching for an enemy
thought Sail Rock was a real ship, and what hap-
pened afterwards was rather funny."
"Please tell us about it," urged Jane.
"It's just a sailor's yarn," began Captain Pierce,
"and you can judge for yourselves whether or not
it's true. Long ago, about 1795, when the English
and French were fighting for possession of some of
these West Indian islands, the French skipper of
a man-o'-war was keeping a sharp lookout for an
English cruiser which had been reported near the
island of St. Thomas.
"The Frenchman was newly arrived in these
waters and when at dusk the lookout reported a
vessel under full sail on the horizon, he was sure
it must be the Englishman he was hunting. Clap-
ping on all sail, the French man-o'-war gave chase.
By the time he reached Sail Rock, it was pitch dark
and the Frenchman never suspected anything.
When he was a few hundred yards away, the
French commander let fly with a full broadside.
The sound of the guns was terrific-and echoed
back from the rock. This made the French com-
mander believe that the English were replying
with a broadside. He was sure of it when cannon
balls began to hit his own ship. They had bounced
back aboard after striking the rock!
"They say the Frenchman bombarded the poor
old rock all night long. When morning dawned
and he discovered his mistake, he made off in
great embarrassment and was never seen in these
Jack and Jane gave Captain Pierce amused
"If that's true," laughed Jack, "then George
Washington crossed the Delaware in a battle-
"Or chopped down the cherry tree with a safety
razor blade!" added Jane, not to be out-done by
"Mebbe so," chuckled Captain Pierce. "A
yarn's a yarn, you know." He gazed off thought-
fully across the shining sea toward Sail Rock, easy
to see now without the aid of the telescope.
"That old rock has seen many a good ship sunk
by pirates and many a person drowned," he re-
marked. "That's true, and recorded by history.
That man Kofresi, for instance, was a cruel one."
"You mean he tortured people?" asked Jane.
"Certainly. He'd stop at nothing to find out
Sailing Sunny Seas
where they'd hidden gold or jewels aboard the
ships he'd capture. If they wouldn't tell, he would
torture 'em until they did."
"Tell us some more," urged Jack.
"Well, one time," said Captain Pierce, tamping
tobacco into his pipe, "Kofresi captured a richly
laden merchant ship, the Santa Rosita, bound for
Cartagena from Hispaniola. There were many
passengers on board, wealthy planters, soldiers,
priests, and many women and children. Kofresi
knew the ship contained a vast treasure of golden
doubloons, bars of silver, and many precious stones.
This time, instead of torturing the people to find
out where their wealth was hidden, he killed every
man aboard the Santa Rosita."
"Gracious!" exclaimed Jane. "What a blood-
"He found all the money and jewels all right,"
continued Captain Pierce. "But he still had the
women and children on his hands. He didn't
know what to do with them."
"Why didn't he kill them?" demanded Jack.
"I don't know. I suppose he had some decency
about him. Anyway, he considered them a great
nuisance aboard his ship, especially as he wanted
to go off and bury his ill-gotten treasure."
"What did he do with the ship he'd captured?"
"Pirates scuttle their ships," Jack assured her.
"That's right," agreed Captain Pierce. "They
consider it bad luck to keep a captured ship unless
absolutely necessary. Their motto was 'sink 'em
without leaving a trace.'
"So Kofresi was at his wits' end to know what to
do with the women and children. As he looked
off toward the horizon and saw Sail Rock, which
he had passed a thousand times, he had a brilliant
idea. 'Why not maroon 'em on Sail Rock while I
bury my treasure?' he asked himself. 'Then I can
pick 'em up again and they won't know where I
buried it. Afterwards, I can set 'em ashore on
some remote island and let 'em shift for them-
"No sooner said than done. He set those poor
people on that barren place, not a blade of grass
or a drop of water on it, and sailed away for
Culebra to bury his treasure. All day long the
prisoners lay under the blazing sun-no shade-
nothing to eat or drink. By nightfall many had
gone raving mad and the rest were well on the
"When Kofresi showed up a few days later to
Sailing Sunny Seas
take his prisoners off the rock, he found no one
"What had happened?" Jane asked breath-
"Poor wretches, they had all leaped into the sea,
driven out of their minds by their hardships and
sufferings. Kofresi simply shrugged, said it was
good riddance, and sailed away."
Captain Pierce blew out a cloud of smoke and
regarded the children solemnly.
"By gollyl" cried Jack. "I wish I'd been there
to get a crack at that pirate!"
"But he got what was coming to him in the
end," Captain Pierce assured him.
"He really got caught?" queried Jack.
"Yes, and by a young man only a few years older
than yourself," said the captain. "He was Mid-
shipman Hull Foote of the United States Navy.
You see, pirates had become so bold throughout
the West Indies, from Cuba south to Venezuela,
that they were damaging our commerce severely.
So Congress sent Admiral David Porter and a
squadron of war vessels to hunt down and destroy
these sea-going bandits.
"When the news of the loss of the Santa Rosita
reached Admiral Porter, he assigned young Mid-
shipman Foote to search out and capture Kofresi,
dead or alive."
"Did he?" asked Jack.
"He most certainly did. But Kofresi, who was
brave as a lion when attacking merchant ships,
was a yellow coward when faced with an armed
ship commanded by such a resolute lad as Midship-
man Foote. After a sharp but short battle, Kofresi
"Did they hang him to the yard arm?" Jane's
eyes were alight with interest.
"Not exactly," said Captain Pierce. "Kofresi
was a Puerto Rican and at that time Puerto Rico
belonged to Spain. So young Foote turned Kofresi
over to the Spanish authorities, who had been
on his trail for a long time too, and they took
care of him all right. They gave him the
"What's that?" asked Jack and Jane.
"It's a rather horrible method of executing
prisoners, used by the Spanish in the old days,"
explained Captain Pierce. "They put a thong of
rawhide around Kofresi's neck, and slowly twisted
it until he was strangled." He paused and then
added, "It's slower and much more painful than
Sailing Sunny Seas
"I think he deserved all he got," declared Jack.
"And I suppose Midshipman Foote was promoted
for his good job?"
"Yes, he was made a lieutenant and served his
country for many years. He has gone down in
history as one of America's great admirals."
Captain Pierce paused and glanced at the ship's
clock in front of the wheelsman.
"Better run down to breakfast," he suggested.
"If you're not too long, you'll have a grand view
of St. Thomas and Charlotte Amalie when you
come on deck again."
Jack and Jane thanked the captain and descended
the ladder. During the meal they chatted gaily
with their parents, recounting to them what Cap-
tain Pierce had said.
Presently Jack remarked, "Say, Dad, we have
been thinking and talking about the Virgin Islands
for weeks now, and I haven't the least idea how
they got their name."
"Maybe they were named in honor of Queen
Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen, as Virginia was,"
"I'll bet you're wrong," said Jack scornfully.
"How could islands that belonged to Denmark be
named after a Queen of England?"
"Now don't put on that big brother act!" re-
torted Jane wrathfully. "You're not so smart-"
"No quarreling, please," Mrs. Conover said.
"I've been doing a bit of reading in the ship's
library, Jack, and I can answer your question.
As you probably know, most of the West Indian
Islands were discovered and named by Christopher
Columbus. On his second voyage to the New
World in 1493, he sailed much further south and
found a great chain of islands curving northward
from the coast of South America.
"Columbus was anxious to return to the little
colony of La Navidad which he had founded on
Hispaniola the year before, so he followed the
chain of new islands north, naming them as he
sailed by: Dominica, Guadeloupe, Montserrat,
Antigua, San Martin and then Santa Cruz,
now called St. Croix, and largest of the Virgin
"After landing at Santa Cruz for water, Colum-
bus steered northward again and soon saw a be-
wildering number of small islands, cays, and rocks.
He was afraid to explore them for fear of wrecking
his ships, so he changed his course to the west and
named the new group Las Virgines or The Virgins,
in honor of St. Ursula."
Sailing Sunny Seas 39
"And who was St. Ursula?" inquired Mr.
"She lived during the fifth century," explained
Mrs. Conover. "At that time there were a num-
ber of crusades to the Holy Land and Ursula
started for Palestine with a company of eleven
thousand virgins. But they were attacked and mur-
dered by the Huns, poor things. Long afterwards,
Ursula was made a Saint of the Roman Catholic
"I see," said Mr. Conover. "And I suppose
Columbus, who was a very religious man, was re-
minded of St. Ursula and her eleven thousand
virgins when he saw what looked like hundreds
and hundreds of small islands."
"Yes, it is as if some kind fairy had transformed
St. Ursula and her brave girls into pretty green
islands, to sleep peacefully in the warm tropic sun
forever," said Mrs. Conover.
Jack drained his glass of milk and glanced at
"Come on," he said. "We'd better get out on
deck if we're going to get our first close-up of St.
Jane nodded. "Yes, Captain Pierce said there
would be many interesting things to see."
By the time the Conovers reached the deck, the
Patricia was running along the rugged coast of
St. Thomas. They could see the high central ridge
of the island, sloping sharply on all sides to meet
the sea. The sun had now climbed above the
island, shedding its warm rays into the deep val-
leys and rimming the sky-line with gold. Along
the shore they could glimpse occasional stretches
of coral sand, fringed with cocoanut palms.
They were surprised to see the hills and jungle-
covered slopes looking so wild. There were no
cultivated areas of sugar cane, no acres of coffee
and tobacco. Yet they recalled from their reading
that a hundred years ago St. Thomas was a well-
cultivated island with a busy port. In those days
the steep hillsides were cultivated to the very sum-
mits by thousands of negro slaves. Along the
waterfront dusky stevedores rolled barrels of sugar
and tobacco and puncheons of rum down to the
waiting ships. Life was happy and prosperous,
for money was plentiful, flowing to the islands in
exchange for rich cargoes delivered to Denmark.
Soon the ship steamed past Water Island, com-
pletely covered by dense jungle. A little later they
could see a signal station perched high on the
summit of another island at the western side of
Sailing Sunny Seas
the harbor. At the yard arm hung two black balls,
apparently the signal heralding the arrival of the
A few moments later a tiny pilot boat edged
alongside the ship and the white-clad pilot scram-
bled up the ladder. He went at once to the bridge,
and was greeted warmly by Captain Pierce.
Slowly the Patricia moved past the signal sta-
tion, and pointed her bow into the harbor of
Few ports of the West Indies unfold a more
fascinating vista than this harbor on a clear spring
morning. Against the dark green background of
the jungle rise the three low hills of the town.
And what a picturesque place! The houses are all
of delicate pastel colors, buff, yellow, blue, gray,
and pink, with red roofs contrasting vividly with
the soft hues of the walls.
As the Conover family gazed with delight at
this brilliant picture, they were met with a de-
licious perfume from the land, delightful odors of
roses, jasmine, and scores of fragrant tropical
After the dull, drab colors of New York in
March, the panorama of color seemed almost too
good to be true. Yet it was true, every bit of it,
even to the American flag flying bravely from
the wireless station near the sparkling blue-green
waters of the harbor.
Suddenly the Patricia blew a long blast on her
whistle, and glided to a stop. An instant later
the anchor chain rumbled through the hawse-hole
and the engines ceased their throbbing. For a mo-
ment a strange silence settled over the ship.
Mr. Conover was the first to speak. He spread
his arms wide and said, smiling, "Here we are,
my dears, safe on the isles of eternal June-our
Before anyone could reply, a great chatter of
voices rose from the water.
The family leaned over the rail, and were
amazed to see dozens of small boats and a few
native canoes, manned by grinning negro boys and
men, clustered about the ship.
At sight of the Conovers, a husky ebony-skinned
lad poised himself on the bow of his boat, waved
his hand, and cried "T'row a nickel, baas!"
"What's he saying?" demanded Jack.
Mr. Conover smiled and reached into his pocket.
"Watch!" he answered.
He withdrew his hand and tossed a small coin
far out into the water. Like a black arrow the
negro boy dived in, disappearing in a welter of
bubbles. He seemed to be gone a long, long
time. But presently he reappeared, the coin firmly
clenched between his teeth.
"That was marvellousl" said Jack. "Got any
more nickles, Dad? I want to toss one."
"Me, too!" said Jane.
For the next few minutes the children kept
throwing small coins into the water for the natives
to recover, until Mr. Conover's change was all
Meanwhile Mrs. Conover was watching another
group of boats which contained an infinite variety
of tropical fruits, shells, coral, and native hand-
craft. The owners of these boats yelled their wares
lustily, hopeful that some of the passengers would
On the other side of the deck there was great
activity also: passengers preparing to go ashore;
stewards assembling luggage; all the good-natured
hubbub that always accompanies a landing in a
West Indian port. Everyone was excited, talking
at the top of their voices, scurrying around, saying
good-by, promising to write.
Mr. Conover's deep, authoritative voice finally
penetrated the din.
"Conovers ashore!" he shouted good-naturedly.
"Quickly! The boat is waiting!"
And with a last good-by to Captain Pierce and
much waving of hands and handkerchiefs, the
Conovers sped away from the Patricia and headed
for the green shores of Charlotte Amalie.
The Ninety-nine Steps
The second day at Charlotte Amalie was a
thrilling adventure for the whole family. So
much had happened the first day that none of
them remembered much about it, except that they
had dashed madly about the town in a rattle-trap
car looking for a place to live. Furnished houses
were scarce. Luckily a naval officer had just
vacated a bungalow at the top of Government Hill,
and Mr. and Mrs. Conover agreed that it would
suit them nicely.
The real estate agent told them the place was
called "Topo." He was uncertain how it got its
name. Jack suggested that it was "Topo" because
it was at the "top-o'-the-hill." Everyone laughed
and let it go at that.
After exploring the spacious rooms, Jane ex-
claimed, "It will be like living in a de luxe sum-
mer cottage-running water, electric lights, tele-
phone, and everything!"
"That's just about it," said her father, and added,
"That reminds me, we must be very careful not to
waste the water. Water is precious here."
"I don't understand," answered Mrs. Conover,
greatly puzzled. "After all, it's just water!"
"True enough, but the fresh water supply is
limited here, as it is in Bermuda. There isn't a
reliable fresh-water lake, pond, stream, or well
anywhere. The islands are so hilly and have
so few level places for water to collect that it's
impossible to store it up in reservoirs, the way we
do in the States."
"How do we get our water then?" demanded
"From the sky," her father answered, smiling.
"It rains very often, and when the rain falls on
the roof it runs down into eave-troughs and is
piped down to a cistern underneath the houses.
Then the water is pumped by hand to a tank on
the roof. From there, it flows by gravity to the
bathroom and kitchen."
"Sounds complicated," mused Jack.
"You'll find it's quite simple to pump the tank
full twice a day," laughed Mr. Conover, giving
his son a nudge in the ribs. "That's going to be
one of your jobs!"
"Wow! I can see where I'm going to develop
a fine set of muscles," cried Jack, flexing his fore-
The Ninety-nine Steps
Breakfast was a new and delightful sensation,
for it was served under a canopy of foliage in their
cool and fragrant garden. All about them were
strange new trees, shrubs, and flowers. Overhead
spread a giant mango tree. Some of the fruit
was ripe and hung on the branches like golden
spheres. Jane reached up and picked one. Her
father peeled off the smooth skin and sliced it,
like a peach.
"How does it taste?" he asked.
"Like nothing I ever ate before," Jane an-
A few yards away stood three banana trees with
broad green leaves that curved gracefully from
thick celery-colored stems. Small stalks of ba-
nanas, not yet ripe, could be seen between the
leaves. Mrs. Conover stared at them for some time
and then remarked, "Well! There's something
I never knew before!"
"What, bananas?" Jack looked at his mother
"I never realized that they grew up from the
stalk. I always thought they grew down!"
After breakfast the family explored other parts
of the garden. They found, to their amazement
and delight, that there were many other varieties
of fruits and flowers. Some they had never seen
A gnarled, unimpressive tree turned out to be
bearing delicious avocado pears. Mrs. Conover
declared they would make excellent salads. Other
strange trees bore exotic fruits such as sour sop
(in spite of its unappetizing name it makes a
delicious ice-cream), papaya (vaguely similar to
a muskmelon, but with quite a different taste),
guavas (splendid for jelly) and many other fruits
which even Mr. Conover could not identify.
As for flowers-they were everywhere: rich pur-
ple and pink bougainvillea, trailing its branches
over fences and walls; tall bushes of pink and
white hibiscus; star-like jasmine blossoms which
gave such a sweet perfume that Jane declared she
was "somehow going to bottle that sweet, romantic
odor and send it to the girls at home." There were
dozens of different cacti and several tall bushes
filled with large, wax-like gardenias, which, Mr.
Conover said, would have sold for at least fifty
cents apiece in New York.
While the others were admiring all these strange
and beautiful things, Jack had wandered around to
the south side of the bungalow. Presently they
heard him shout, "Come here quickly!"
The Ninety-nine Steps 49
They found him leaning against the picket fence,
staring at a long flight of steps that ran down the
hill for nearly a full city block.
"This is a funny town!" he cried. "They even
use steps for streets on these hills!"
"Yes, you'll see that quite frequently in Char-
lotte Amalie," said his father. "These are called
the Ninety-nine Steps. I counted them once and
could only make it ninety-eight, but maybe I
skipped one." He turned to Jane and added with
a wink, "There's a tradition that no young girl
who expects to get married should ever walk
down these steps without a flower in her hair.
So remember that, young lady!"
Jane nodded. "I think I'll choose a hibiscus
flower," she said dreamily. "That's what the
maidens wear in the South Seas."
The family's tour of their new home ended
on the broad veranda, from which was a mag-
nificent view of the town and harbor. Below
were neighboring houses and flower gardens, one
below the other, descending gradually to the level
areas near the waterfront. Beyond lay the peace-
ful harbor, sparkling with iridescent hues in the
sunshine. On either side of the harbor rose rounded
hills, carpeted with dusky green jungle. Far to
the west was a series of small islands, ringed with
flashing white surf. It was a beautiful, breath-
taking scene, and they never grew tired of it dur-
ing their entire stay in the Virgin Islands.
As Jack and Jane had arrived at St. Thomas in
the middle of the week, they did not have to start
school until the following Monday. Nevertheless,
Mr. Conover took them to the school, interviewed
the principal, and showed him their school rec-
ords. Mr. Dawson, the principal, told them they
could continue in their regular grades without
The thing which struck Jack and Jane as most
unusual was the great number of negro children
they saw in the classrooms. Out of a class of forty
children, only six or eight were white. The rest
varied in color from coal black, through various
shades of brown, to a few who were extremely
As the children were walking back home with
their father, Jane asked, "Why are there so few
white children in school, Dad?"
"Because there are only a few of them on the
island compared to the great number of negro chil-
dren. You see, the people of these islands are
The Ninety-nine Steps
ninety-eight per cent black or colored. Only two
per cent are white."
"Why is that?" put in Jack.
"The natives of the Virgin Islands are the
descendants of the negro slaves imported from
Africa by the early Danish planters," answered
his father. "As time went on, the negroes multi-
plied, while the number of white people decreased,
due to wars, droughts, hurricanes, and general
bad conditions. When slavery was abolished in
1848, many of the planters returned to Europe.
So, for one reason or another, the negro population
has steadily increased and the white population
"Did you say that slavery was abolished here
in 1848?" queried Jane.
"That's right," said her father.
"The Danes beat our country to it by fourteen
years," exclaimed Jack, after some moments of
calculation. "Our Emancipation Proclamation
wasn't made until 1862. It went into effect on
January first, 1863."
"What a memory!" whispered Jane to her
brother. "You're marvelous!"
Jack gave her hair a good-natured yank and
hurried ahead to catch up to his father.
The school was pleasantly located near the edge
of the harbor, surrounded by numbers of palms
and turpentine trees. King's Wharf and the large
concrete Navy Building where Mr. Conover had
his office were near.
"I've got to spend the rest of the morning at my
desk," he told Jack and Jane. "Suppose you
explore the town by yourselves. Don't miss the
old Danish Fort." He thought a moment and then
took out his wallet, extracted a business card,
scribbled a few words, and handed it to Jack.
"Take this to the chief of police. I used to know
him down here years ago. He'll be glad to show
you the Fort."
Glad to be on their own, they walked rapidly
past the Grand Hotel to the main thoroughfare
of the town. A small sign on the corner building
caught Jane's eye.
"Dronnigens Gade," she read aloud. "What
in the world does that mean?"
"That's easy," said Jack loftily. "For your
enlightenment, my dear sister, I wish to point out
that Dronnigens Gade is Danish and means
"How do you know?" demanded Jane, looking
at him in surprise.
The Ninety-nine Steps
"Don't you wish you knew!" taunted her brother.
"Come on, please tell me," urged Jane.
"Well, the real estate man gave me my in-
formation, if you must know!" admitted Jack
with a grin. "Come on. Let's take in this
main street and then look up Dad's friend at the
Although they did not know it, they had chosen
the best time of the day, mid-morning, to feel the
full pulse-throb of St. Thomian life. At the
market place there was great activity, for all the
natives in town seemed to be doing their shopping.
Negro women sat by piles of brightly colored fruits
and vegetables, calling their wares loudly or ex-
changing gossip with customers. Some of the old
women vendors puffed contentedly on small clay
pipes. Men lounged or sat in the doorways of
houses and shops, apparently with nothing in the
world to do but look on sleepily at the throngs of
people passing by. A few seemed to be pretending
to work at something or other, with much groaning
and puffing, but accomplishing little.
The narrow street was thronged with pedes-
trians, motor cars, hand carts, and piccaninnies, all
jumbled together in good-natured confusion.
Small, mouse-colored donkeys plodded placidly
along with the traffic, carrying huge loads of fire-
wood or guinea grass from the country.
All sorts of strange aromas floated through the
hot air. The most prominent was fish.
After a half hour of watching the hurly-burly
along Dronnigens Gade, Jane tugged at her broth-
"Let's go to the Fort now," she panted. "I'm
just about stifled in this crowd!"
Jack nodded and they walked eastward, past
the new post-office. Then they cut across Emanci-
pation Park and headed for Fort Christian.
It was a picturesque old building, set in the
midst of luxuriant trees and flowering shrubbery
close to the water's edge. Jane thought it looked
more like an ancient castle than a fort, for it was
built of bright red bricks and had high Gothic
windows. A square clock-tower rose from the cen-
ter of the building and over the arched gateway was
the royal coat-of-arms of Denmark and the date,
"Can you imagine a fort like this standing a
bombardment from ships in the harbor?" asked
"I suppose the walls are very thick," answered
Jack. "And the cannon balls they fired in the
old days were just solid hunks of iron. They
didn't explode like modern shells. Just the
same, I wouldn't want to have been inside during
At the entrance a policeman politely inquired
their business. When they told him they had a
note for the chief of police, he immediately ushered
them into the office.
The chief proved to be an elderly, ruddy-faced
Irishman who had served for many years on the
New York Force. After he read Mr. Conover's
card he gave the children a cordial welcome.
"Before I show you around," he said, "maybe
you'd like to know a bit of the history of this old
"Yes, indeed," they answered politely, although
they were anxious to get started.
"As you probably know," continued the chief,
"Fort Christian was built by the Danish Govern-
ment as a protection for their little colony against
the Spanish, English, and French, as well as the
many pirates who sailed these waters at that time.
For many years the fort was the residence of a
long succession of Danish Governors as well as
the seat of government and the island's jail." He
smiled and added, "And now that you've had your
history lesson let's have a look around." He
escorted them through a side door.
They found themselves in a square paved court-
yard inside the fort, entirely surrounded by thick
walls surmounted by broad ramparts. Various
rooms within the walls were used for offices, the
municipal court, and barracks for the police. At
the south-west corner was a flight of stone steps
which led to the ramparts.
Mounting the steps, they soon looked out over
a low wall at the harbor. The wall was pierced
by square embrasures, through which the muzzles
of several old cannon pointed seaward.
Jack examined the ancient guns with lively
interest. He looked down their rusty muzzles
and asked innumerable questions. The chief
told him that the cannon had been there for
The Ninety-nine Steps
hundreds of years and were, of course, useless as
armament. In one corner, however, was a mod-
"This one looks as if it might shoot," remarked
Jack. "Is that the only protection the town has
The chief chuckled.
"No, indeed. The island is well fortified."
He pointed northward to the high range of hills.
"There are plenty of big guns up there that could
blast an enemy miles away out of the water. This
little gun," he pointed to the one in the corner, "is
used as a signal gun. We fire it every day at sun-
set when the flag is lowered. It has another pur-
pose, too-as a hurricane warning."
"Hurricane warning?" repeated Jane. "What's
"Once in a while we have hurricanes down here,"
explained the chief, "and we always try to warn
the people ahead of time. First we get informa-
tion by radio that the storm is approaching; then
we hoist flags in warning to everyone to prepare
for the worst. Just as the hurricane reaches the
island we fire that gun as a signal that the full
fury of the hurricane is about to break loose.
When the people hear the gun, they lock them-
selves in their houses and hope that they won't be
"Golly!" cried Jack, "I'd like to see a hurricane.
It must be exciting."
"Exciting is correct," answered the chief
gravely, "but I think you'd be scared, too."
"He certainly would," Jane assured him. "I
guess even grown-ups are, too."
The chief nodded and led the way back to the
courtyard, through a grilled doorway and down
a dark flight of steps.
"What's down here?" asked Jane a little fear-
fully, for the air was damp and clammy. Hardly a
ray of light penetrated the gloom and she had to
grope along the wall to keep from falling.
"Dungeons!" replied the chief from somewhere
in the darkness. "Here's where they used to im-
prison pirates and murderers who had been con-
demned to die on the gallows."
The children heard the rattle of a key in a lock
and the clank of a heavy iron chain.
"Come on," called the chief. "You can see
better down here."
The children felt their way cautiously down the
last few steps, and then saw faint rays of light
coming through a small opening high in the wall.
The Ninety-nine Steps
The chief was standing at the entrance to a tiny
room, holding open a massive, barred door.
"Kind of spooky, isn't it?" he remarked, laugh-
ing. "I suppose the ghosts of many pirates haunt
this place, although I've never seen any myself.
When a man had been tried and convicted of piracy
or murder on the high seas, or on land, he was con-
fined in one of these dungeons. His bed was a pile
of mouldy straw."
The chief moved a few steps into the dungeon
and they heard the clank of a chain. "He was
chained to the wall and had to sit here in the dark
for weeks, and perhaps months, until the day for
his hanging arrived," he said.
"What happened then?" asked Jack, shivering
"All the people of the town were invited to
attend the hanging." The chief paused and
chuckled. "In fact, it was considered quite a so-
cial event l The spectators assembled outside the
walls of the fort, waiting expectantly. On the
ramparts, in full view, was the gallows, flanked
by a company of Danish soldiers. At the sound
of a bugle, the condemned man was brought to
the gallows and allowed to say a few words before
he went to his death. Sometimes a poor wretch
would protest his innocence, calling on the saints
to witness that he had done no wrong. Others
admitted their guilt and called on God to forgive
them. At a signal from the governor, the noose
was placed about the neck of the doomed man.
A few moments later he had paid for his crimes
with his life. For weeks afterwards his body hung
there, a ghastly warning to all rogues and villains
tempted to commit similar acts of piracy."
By the time the chief had finished, poor Jane's
knees were trembling. There in the dark, ghostly
dungeon she seemed to see the whole awful scene.
Jack, too, was disturbed and they were thank-
ful when the chief told them that they had seen
about everything, and led the way back to the
The bright sunshine and clear blue sky soon
restored their spirits. They thanked the chief for
his courtesy in showing them Fort Christian.
Then they hurried across Emancipation Park,
for the clock in the tower of the fort pointed to
noon, and their father, they knew, would be ready
to accompany them back to Topo for lunch.
Sure enough, he was waiting at the doorway of
the Navy Building.
As they walked up hill toward the Ninety-nine
The Ninety-nine Steps
steps, Jack and Jane told him about everything
they had seen.
"If you're interested in pirates," Mr. Conover
remarked when they had finished, "you'll want to
visit Blackbeard's Castle. Old Blackbeard was
one of the toughest, most blood-thirsty sea-rovers
who ever sailed the seas. For some years he had
his headquarters right here on this island, and
many interesting tales are told about him."
"Let's go this afternoon, may we?" Jack's voice
"Yes, please!" urged Jane.
"All right," answered their father. "We can go
after I'm through at the office about four-thirty.
I'm sure Mr. Baretta, who owns the castle, will
let us roam around. Probably your mother will
want to come, too."
Dwellers of the Deep
Jack and Jane were bubbling with enthusiasm
about their coming visit to Blackbeard's Castle.
However, at lunch when they began to tell their
mother about it, she looked at them in dismay.
"This rather complicates matters," she ex-
claimed. "Mrs. Christian, the doctor's wife, came
over this morning and invited us all to go swim-
ming at Brewers Bay. She has a son about Jane's
age and a daughter the age of Jack. Naturally I
accepted, not knowing about your plans."
She glanced at Jack and Jane inquiringly, then
across to Mr. Conover.
Jane's response was eager. "I'd much rather
go to the beach!"
"Same here!" echoed Jack. "We can visit
Blackbeard's some other time, can't we, Dad?"
His father nodded.
"Of course," he said. "You're going to be here
a long time and you'll have plenty of opportunity
to see everything. I'd much rather go swimming
"That's splendid!" smiled Mrs. Conover. "Mrs.
Dwellers of the Deep
Christian will call for us at four-thirty. We can
stop by the office and pick up Father on the way."
Promptly at the appointed hour a station wagon
drew up at the front entrance of "Topo." Pres-
ently Mrs. Conover, Jack, and Jane appeared with
beach bags containing their swimming togs. After
introductions all around, the car started down the
long winding hill that led to King's Wharf.
Paul Christian was a red-haired, freckled faced
youngster with a broad grin and a shy, likable
disposition. At least that was Jane's first impres-
sion. They did not have much to say to each other
at the start, but once the first embarrassing mo-
ments were over, they began chattering away like
magpies. Paul and his sister had lived on St.
Thomas all their lives, except for a trip to Den-
mark. Paul was eager to hear about school life in
the United States and Jane was glad to tell him
about all the activities of their school.
Clare Christian was quite different from her
brother. She had blond, wavy hair, bleached by
the sun to an almost platinum color, a pert little
nose, and a slim, strong body. Jack thought her
quite the prettiest girl he had seen for a long time.
Mr. Conover joined them at the Navy Building.
Having safely traversed Dronnigens Gade with-
out running down any of the half-naked piccanin-
nies that scurried dangerously in front of the car,
Mrs. Christian pointed the station wagon west-
ward toward Brewers Bay. As they passed a small
side-road piercing a heavy piece of jungle, she
said, "Some day you should visit Krum Bay. It's
a fascinating old place, sometimes called 'the grave-
yard of ships.' "
"Sounds interesting," commented Mr. Conover.
"Exactly what is it?"
"Years ago there was a shipwrecking busi-
ness there," explained Mrs. Christian. "All the
old sailing vessels and some clipper ships, I
believe, were brought there to be broken up and
the metal sold for scrap. They have the most
fascinating collection of nautical things you ever
Jack, who had been listening to Clare with one
ear and to Mrs. Christian with the other, piped up,
"Say, I'd be keen to go and look around."
"They have a real diving helmet they'll let you
put on and walk around on the bottom of the bay,"
said Clare. "That is," and she looked at Jack
mischievously, "if you aren't too scared."
"Who? Me?" cried Jack. "I should say not!
I bet I can go down fathoms 'n fathoms." He
Dwellers of the Deep
was a little annoyed that Clare would suggest that
he might be afraid.
"We'll file that statement for further reference,"
laughed Mr. Conover. "For the present you can
try swimming on the surface."
Soon the car slowed down and proceeded cau-
tiously down a short, rocky bit of road which
brought them in full sight of the sea. To the west
was a bold, rocky headland, protecting the gleam-
ing white beach of Brewers Bay. A few minutes
later they came to a halt beside a long row of neat
"We have a sort of beach club here," explained
Mrs. Christian, alighting from the car. "You'll
receive an invitation to join within a few days.
The water is perfectly safe for swimming. There
are no sharks or barracudas, because the beach is
protected by a coral reef out yonder." She pointed
off to the south. "You can't see it, but it's there,
just the same."
"What's that island out there?" asked Jack,
pointing toward a small islet with a sharp pointed
hill thrusting itself out of the sea several miles
"It's called Little Saba," answered Mrs. Chris-
"Anyone live there?"
"Perhaps a few wild goats."
"I'd like to explore that, too," mused Jack, fol-
lowing the party around to the front of the bath-
The water was deliciously warm. Jane re-
membered the chilly moments on Long Island
beaches when she had shivered in the cold surf,
and was glad, once more, that she was in the Vir-
Paul and Clare were expert swimmers, Jack and
Jane decided, as they watched them cut through
the water, using a fast crawl stroke. They raced
for the raft and clambered up, beckoning to Jack
and Jane who were a little out of practice.
"What makes the water so terribly salty?" asked
Jane, rubbing her smarting eyes as she sat down
beside Paul on the raft.
"I don't know. Is it?" he asked in surprise.
"Yes, and it stings," said Jane.
"It's because of quicker evaporation, or some-
thing," put in Clare. "Daddy says so."
"Guess that must be it," agreed Jack. "But it
certainly stings my eyes."
"You won't notice it in a week or so," promised
Clare. "You're both new down here and you've
Dwellers of the Deep
got to toughen up." She glanced at Jack's white
shoulders. "You haven't even got any tan."
"Give us a chance!" protested Jack. "We've only
been here for two days and you've been here all
He got to his feet and did a back flip off the
raft, just to show Clare that he knew a few tricks
that perhaps she couldn't do.
"Will you teach me that one?" exclaimed Paul
"Sure," answered Jack, climbing back on the
raft proudly, his eyes on Clare.
For the next hour the four of them had the time
of their lives in the water. It was so crystal clear
that they could plainly see the sandy bottom,
twelve feet below the raft. When they dove down
and opened their eyes, they glimpsed myriads of
brightly colored coral fish, brilliantly striped with
orange, black, and red. Other tiny fish were
spotted with gay polka-dots, while others shim-
mered with a sort of iridescent butterfly blue.
Here and there on the bottom were dark brown
patches of coral, mingled with the red of sea-
sponges and delicately waving purple and green
Jack, who could remain under water for nearly
a minute, was thrilled with this marvelous under-
sea garden and never tired of swimming along
under the water with his eyes open.
Paul suggested a game of "king-of-the-castle"
with the raft as the castle. Soon all four were
vying to see who could stand on the raft the longest
without being pushed into the water.
Finally Clare said, "Come on, let's go back to
the beach and hunt shells. There was an extra
high tide yesterday and there ought to be some
beauties washed up."
All agreed that a shell hunt would be fun, so
they plunged into the water together and streaked
for the shore.
"Have you got a shell collection?" Jack asked
Clare as they lay sunning themselves on the warm
sand before starting for their walk down the beach.
"It's the best collection of any one of my age
in the whole town!" boasted Clare.
"What do you collect 'em for?" persisted Jack,
his tone showing plainly that he thought it a rather
"Because they are beautiful and have such lovely
colors, I guess," she said. "Finding new kinds is
really fascinating. And you can always discover
ones that are better than some you already have."
She paused and looked up at Jack. "I suppose
you think it's silly."
"No, I don't," answered Jack. "Only I've never
gone in for that sort of thing. It might be fun."
"Come on then and we'll see how sharp your
eyes are," said Jane, jumping up and brushing
the sand from her bathing suit.
Paul and Jane were already some distance down
the beach, crouched over something that lay near
the water's edge.
"Look at this!" cried Jane. "It's a star-fish."
Sure enough, the greyish-tan fish was shaped
exactly like a five-pointed star. Having been
dead for a long time and exposed to the sun, it was
dry and brittle.
"This is going to start my collection," announced
"But it isn't a shell," said Clare. "I thought
you were going to collect only shells."
"Oh no! I'm going to collect anything I think
is interesting whether it's fish, coral, shells or what
"Huhl" muttered Paul scornfully, "You're not
Just then a gleam of pink a few yards away
caught Jack's eye. He walked over and brushed
away the sand from a large half-buried shell.
"What's this one?" he asked. "It's pretty."
"Those are as common as sand-all over the
islands," said Jane. "It's a conch shell. The
natives used to use them to decorate the graves in
the cemetery. That is, until Daddy made them
"Why?" demanded Jack.
"Because they were placed face up and caught
rain water. Mosquitoes bred in the water and
spread malaria. So now the negroes don't use
conch shells on graves any more. Instead, they
paint pictures on conch shells and sell them to
"They use 'em for horns, too," added Paul.
"Horns?" repeated Jack. "How do you
Dwellers of the Deep
"They cut off the tip of that narrow end," said
Paul, pointing to the shell Jack was holding, "and
blow through it the same way you'd blow a bugle.
It makes a funny sort of 'Who-o-o' sound. You
can hear it a long way off. They always carry a
conch aboard native sloops for a fog horn or to
"That's an idea!" cried Jack. "I'm beginning to
get interested in shells, now that they've got some
practical use. I know how to blow a bugle, and
I'm going to make a conch horn that you can hear
from here to kingdom come!"
"You'd better do your practising on the beach
then," laughed Jane. "Mother wouldn't stand for
your blowing around the house."
Brewers Bay beach stretched westward for sev-
eral miles and as the four children walked slowly
along, they discovered innumerable interesting
specimens of sea-life: exquisite rainbow shells
with pink and lavender rays on a porcelain-like
background, polished by the sea to an almost un-
believable lustre. Clare prized these especially,
for she said they were hard to find in perfect con-
dition. Occasionally they found tiny pink "rose-
bud" shells and another smaller kind which Clare
called "green peas." They were well-named, for
when a few of them were held together in the hand
they looked very much like their vegetable name-
Further on, the sand gave way to a stretch of
broken coral. Paul cautioned the others to tread
carefully, for it was very easy to cut one's foot
on the sharp edges. Here were all sorts of coral
formations broken from the outer reef and cast
ashore by the waves. The constant rays of the
tropic sun had bleached the coral to brilliant salty
whiteness. Great lumps resembled the convolu-
tions of the human brain and this species was aptly
known as "brain coral." Another smoother variety
looked as if some sculptor had carved tiny stars all
over it. There were many broken bits of "tree
coral" which, Jane remarked, looked like Christ-
mas tree branches, except that they were white.
Clare explained that it was almost impossible to
find perfect specimens on the beach because they
got broken by the waves. The only way to get one
of these miniature "trees" was to dive for one in
deep water-and that was too dangerous. Only
the natives could do it.
While she was talking, Jack had waded out into
the water in search of a star-fish like Jane's, only
a live one. He was feeling his way carefully from
Dwellers of the Deep
one large shelf of coral to another, trying to keep
his balance on the slippery, uneven surface.
"Come back!" called Paul excitedly. "Watch
where you're stepping!"
"What's all the hurry?" retorted Jack. Never-
theless, he turned and made his way slowly back
"It's a good thing you didn't get spiked out
there," remarked Paul, obviously relieved that his
older friend had returned safely.
"What do you mean, spiked?" demanded Jack.
Without replying, Paul stepped to the water's
edge and pointed. "Look," he commanded.
Jack peered at the dark masses of coral below
the surface and said, "I don't see anything."
"You must be blind!" Paul answered. He
turned to Clare and told her to bring him a stick.
She hunted around until she finally found a pointed
bit of driftwood.
Paul reached over and prodded a small round
spot in one of the holes in the coral. Something
seemed to move and, by dint of repeated pryings
and proddings, Paul dislodged whatever it was
and pushed it on to the sand.
Jack's eyes popped as he saw a dark blue crea-
ture about three inches in diameter with sharp
spines sticking out all over it. The thing looked
like a pin cushion stuck full of five-inch needles.
"You're lucky you didn't step on one of these,"
commented Paul, watching the spines of the crea-
ture move slowly back and forth with a strange
"What do you call the ugly thing?" demanded
Jack, somewhat shaken by the thought that one of
these deadly spines might have penetrated the sole
of his foot.
"Sea urchin," said Paul. "It hides in holes in
the coral. You'll never find one on a sandy bottom.
If you want to go poking around a coral bottom,
you've got to wear shoes."
"I'll remember that, and thank you for putting
me wise!" Jack's tone was sincere.
Clare explained that often these sea urchins
were washed up on the beach. When they dried
out, the spines dropped off. "They go white and
look like the shell of an egg. Some people call
them sea eggs," Clare said.
She searched near-by for a few moments and
came back holding a dried sea urchin in the palm
of her hand. It looked totally different from the
live creature on the sand. There were rows of
little bumps where the spines had been and the
Dwellers of the Deep
convex body was as thin and brittle as an egg-
shell. Clare closed her hand and the sea urchin
broke into a dozen pieces.
Paul told Jack and Jane that when a person was
unfortunate enough to have one of the spines pierce
his foot, it was very difficult to extract because it
usually broke off.
"Daddy has had to operate on quite a few peo-
ple to get the spines out. He says it's a tough
job, especially when a person doesn't have it at-
tended to right away."
"You're a cheerful fellow!" grinned Jack.
"Let's start back. It's getting late."
They turned toward the distant bath-houses and
walked leisurely along with the sun at their backs.
After awhile, Jane, who had been lagging some-
what behind the others, called to her brother.
He went back to her and she pointed up at a rather
ordinary looking tree with glossy green leaves.
"Look!" she exclaimed. "Crab apples!"
Jack peered up at the branches and saw that they
were loaded with small green fruit about the size
of crab apples. Numbers of them lay on the
ground at the base of the tree. He picked one up
and examined it.
"Looks like a crab apple," he admitted. "But
I never heard of them growing in the tropics."
"Why shouldn't they?" demanded Jane.
"Wasn't the Garden of Eden supposed to be some-
where in a tropical climate? And didn't Eve
pick an apple off the tree of what-do-you-call-it?"
"That's what the Bible says. But you know
what happened to Eve!"
"Just the same, I'm going to try one," insisted
Jane, stooping and picking up one of the green
objects from the ground.
"Wait," said Jack. "We'd better ask the Chris-
"I'll take a chance."
Jane raised her hand and was about to take a
bite of the fruit when Jack clutched her wrist and
snatched the thing away from her already open
"I said wait!" he growled.
At this moment Paul and Clare came running
up to see what was delaying Jack and Jane.
When Clare saw what Jane had been going to
eat, she said in a tense voice, "That's a manchineel
apple, the deadliest poison in the West Indies."
Jane gasped. Her knees felt weak and she cov-
ered her face with -her hands.
Dwellers of the Deep
"Never mind," said Clare sympathetically.
"You didn't know, but down here it's always a
good idea not to fool around with things you're not
"Especially manchineel," added Paul. "If
you'd taken only a little bit of that, you'd probably
have died in convulsions."
"Stop it!" interposed Clare severely. "Can't
you see that Jane is upset already without you mak-
ing it worse?" She turned to Jack. "But what
Paul says is true. Daddy will tell you the same
"It was a close squeak," he said solemnly. "I
guess we've both got plenty to learn down here."
"And I suppose the same would go for us, up
north," smiled Clare. "Come on, Jane, pull your-
self together and let's get going."
The four hurried along, knowing that their
parents would be anxious to start for home before
the brief tropic twilight gave way to night.
Blackbeard the Pirate
By Saturday afternoon Mr. Conover was able to
keep his promise to take the family to visit Black-
"Are we going in the car?" inquired Mrs. Con-
"No, it's hardly necessary," her husband an-
swered. "The castle is only a few minutes' walk
from here-farther up Government Hill."
"I'm glad we're walking," Mrs. Conover said
with a smile. "I need the exercise. With these
darky servants to do all the housework, I'm afraid
I'm going to get shamefully lazy, and perhaps put
"Well, the rest will do you good, Mother," ob-
served Jane, putting her arm through Mrs. Con-
over's. "You certainly deserve a holiday."
"And swimming is the best thing to keep from
getting beefy," added Jack.
Mr. Conover frowned at his son for this flippant
remark and Jack hastily apologized.
Their path led along a rough gravel road that
Blackbeard the Pirate
circled Government Hill and led to the very sum-
mit. Soon they saw the grey outlines of a tall
round tower above the trees.
"Is that Blackbeard's Castle?" asked Jack.
"None other," replied Mr. Conover. "It stands
on private property but I am sure Mr. Baretta,
who owns the estate, will be glad to show us
"Do you think he'd be willing to answer the
questions we're sure to ask?" Jane spoke as if she
were afraid he would not.
"I think so," said Mr. Conover, "provided
they're not silly questions. Mr. Baretta is well
acquainted with the history of the castle. If he
likes your looks, perhaps he will tell you some
Jack was staring at the grim stone walls thought-
fully. "Doesn't look much like the kind of a castle
you read about in Sir Launcelot," he whispered to
Jane. "I'm disappointed."
"I'm not," said Jane. "I certainly wouldn't
expect a pirate to build the kind of a fancy
castle they went in for during King Arthur's
time." She paused and wrinkled her nose at her
brother. "You should reason things out, like
"Oh, sure!" Jack made a face that belied his
After rounding the last bend in the road, the
Conovers saw Mr. Baretta's large neat bungalow,
nestled amid a profusion of tropical foliage. A
great purple bougainvillea vine trailed over the
roof and hung down in colorful festoons from the
eaves of the veranda.
In response to their knock, Mr. Baretta himself
greeted them. He was an elderly gentleman with
snow-white hair and beard. He recalled Mr.
Conover's last visit to St. Thomas, years ago, and
said that he had planned to call at "Topo" that
When their father explained that Jack and Jane
were anxious to visit Blackbeard's Castle and per-
haps hear something about the famous pirate him-
self, Mr. Baretta was delighted.
He led the way to the garden at the base of the
"As far as we know," said Mr. Baretta, "this
so-called castle is two hundred and sixty-seven
years old." He patted the rough stone. "And
it's just as strong and solid as the day it was
built, in spite of dozens of hurricanes and sev-
Blackbeard the Pirate
"Heavens!" cried Jane. "Do you have earth-
quakes down here?"
"Once in a great while," answered Mr. Baretta
with a shrug. "The last one was in 1867, so I fancy
there isn't much danger."
"I'm glad of that," Jane's voice sounded relieved.
"Please go on, Mr. Baretta. I'm sorry I inter-
"As I was saying," he continued, "the old tower
is as sound as a nut. We use it for a water tower
now and there's a tank up there. Presently we'll
climb to the top and you'll have a wonderful view
of the south side of the island. First of all, though,
I'll tell you about the man who built the tower and
another who took it over years later.
"A swashbuckling Dutchman named Carl Bag-
gaert arrived at St. Thomas in 1674. He had
got into plenty of trouble in Holland, and came to
the West Indies, probably to escape hanging. He
was a boastful, domineering fellow, and built this
tower so that he could boast that he lived closer to
heaven than anyone else in the town!
"When the Danish governor realized what Bag-
gaert had done, he sent a letter of protest to the
King of Denmark, in which he declared, 'it is not
advantageous to the Fort that Baggaert build his
house so much higher, because everyone who comes
to see him completely overlooks me!"
Mr. Conover laughed.
"Those old Danish governors were jealous fel-
lows and didn't want their dignity hurt, I suppose,"
"Exactly," agreed Mr. Baretta.
He pointed up to the walls of the tower and
asked Jack, "Do you see those square loopholes
"Yes," answered Jack. "I guess they must have
been for muskets or cannon."
"You're right," said Mr. Baretta approvingly.
"They say Baggaert used to keep guns up here so
that, if he ever had a real argument with the gover-
nor, he could win it with a few well-placed cannon
balls plumped down on the governor's head!
"Time went on and Baggaert was killed in a
tavern brawl and the tower was without an owner
until Mr. Blackbeard came along." He paused
and said with a smile, "I've placed a picture of him
on the inside of the tower door, so visitors can have
an idea of what he looked like. Here, I'll show
Mr. Baretta took a huge, old-fashioned key from
his pocket and placed it in the massive lock of
Blackbeard the Pirate
the door. The lock creaked and groaned, but
presently the heavy iron-studded door swung open.
Sure enough, on the inside was a framed print,
yellow with age, of Blackbeard the pirate.
"What a horrible looking man!" cried Jane,
standing on her tiptoes to get a better look at the
"He certainly was no beauty," agreed Mr.
Baretta, "and his deeds were as black as his
Blackbeard was a ferocious looking ruffian. He
was a giant of a man, six feet four inches in height,
and broad in proportion. On his head was a three-
cornered hat, from beneath which straggled long,
black, upkempt hair. His great beard, as raven
hued as his hair, hung down nearly to his waist.
Across each shoulder he wore a broad leather belt
into which were thrust braces of flintlock pistols.
At his left hip was a huge razor-sharp cutlass. The
picture showed him leaning on a musket, gesturing
with his other hand toward his vessel, at anchor
in a harbor that might have been St. Thomas.
After gazing at the old print for a few moments,
Jack asked, "Why in the world is smoke coming
out of his hair?"
Mr. Baretta chuckled.
"I'll tell you about that presently," he answered.
"First, though, let's climb to the top of the tower."
He led the way inside and up a spiral staircase.
Soon they found themselves at the summit and in-
side a sort of wooden cupola which sheltered the
water tank. Mr. Baretta explained that this cupola
was of comparatively recent date.
The view was magnificent. Directly southward,
across the peaceful blue of the Caribbean, they
could see, in hazy outline, the shores of St. Croix,
largest of the American Virgin Islands. Bold
headlands jutted out westward, one after another.
The islands of Culebra and Vieques were beyond,
with well-remembered Sail Rock closer in.
Everyone was silent for a long time, lost in con-
templation of the serene beauty and color that
nature had lavished upon land, sea, and air.
Presently Mr. Baretta noticed that Jack and
Jane were beginning to get a little restless. So he
suggested that he tell them about the ruthless sea-
rover who had so often stood atop this same tower
and swept the horizon with his spyglass, searching
for a ship he could plunder.
"Yes, please!" chorused Jack and Jane.
Mr. and Mrs. Conover were as interested as
their son and daughter:
Blackbeard the Pirate
Here is the story Mr. Baretta told them, high
above Charlotte Amalie. As he talked, a blood-
red sunset flamed in the west and long purple
shadows crept down from the jungle-covered
Edward Teach, who later became known as
Blackbeard, was born of respectable parents in
Jamaica during the latter part of the seventeenth
century. As that island was a notorious rendezvous
for privateers and all sorts of freebooters, it can
be safely assumed that young Edward got into bad
company at an early age. He soon signed on a
corsair craft to seek his fortune plundering honest
As soon as he had learned seamanship and navi-
gation, he caused a mutiny on board his ship, mur-
dered the captain and officers and took command
himself. It was only a small sloop of eight guns,
but Teach was so dauntless in combat with larger
craft that he quickly became the owner of a ship of
forty guns, christened the Queen Anne's Revenge.
Then he set forth to engage in piracy on a grand
Blackbeard's area of operations extended as far
south as the Gulf of Paria and, some declare, as
far north as Boston. He was well known in New
Providence in the Bahamas, for old documents re-
veal that he stayed there for some time, strutting
about the streets, playing at dice, brawling in the
taverns and scaring honest folk by his ferocious ap-
Although he wore elegant clothes while ashore,
he underwent a terrifying change at sea. Just be-
fore he was ready to board any enemy ship, he
dressed himself in a rough coat and breeches,
and stuck a broad-brimmed hat on his shaggy head.
Then he braided his long black hair and beard and
tied slow-burning matches to the ends of the braids.
When his vessel ran alongside an enemy ship Black-
beard jumped aboard, flourishing a cutlass in one
hand and a pistol in the other. His head was
wreathed in smoke from the slow matches and he
gnashed his teeth and shouted curses at the top of
his lungs. So astounded and terrified were his op-
ponents at the sight of this desperate ruffian, who
looked as if he had come direct from the lower
regions, they offered only slight resistance and
Blackbeard was able to capture and plunder the
All prisoners who refused to turn pirate were
shot, hanged at the yard arm, or tortured to death.
If the captured ship were valuable and contained
a rich cargo, Blackbeard would put a prize crew
aboard and send her to St. Thomas to be sold.
St. Thomas was Blackbeard's favorite head-
quarters because, with the connivance of the local
merchants, he was able to dispose of his stolen mer-
chandise at a handsome price. It is well estab-
lished also, that some of the Danish governors
secretly aided and protected many pirates, includ-
ing Blackbeard, from their English, French,
Dutch, and Spanish victims and received a share
of the loot in return.
Blackbeard turned up in St. Thomas about the
year 171o after a particularly profitable period of
high-sea robbery. Having been at sea so long, he
was ready to spend some time ashore and enjoy life
carousing and gambling. Baggaert's tower having
no occupant at this time, Blackbeard took posses-
-- -- -
sion without so much as by-your-leave and estab-
lished himself there. He furnished the place with
every luxury the island afforded and lavishly en-
tertained anyone who cared to visit him.
This remarkable pirate had an amazing and dan-
gerous sense of humor. While his guests were in
the midst of their meal and enjoying to the full the
rich foods and wines set before them, Blackbeard
would suddenly draw his pistols, shoot out every
candle on the table and make his guests finish the
meal in the dark.
Island tradition declares that Blackbeard had
no less than fourteen wives. He must have tired
of them easily, for it is unlikely that he remained
on the island for more than two years. One after
another they mysteriously disappeared, to be re-
placed immediately with some other young woman,
who, no doubt, was more interested in his wealth
than his looks!
One of Blackbeard's playful tricks was to an-
nounce, at the close of one of his banquets, that
his wife would entertain the guests with a dance.
The poor woman knew what was coming, but she
dared not disobey. To the tune of flutes and tam-
bourines, she would begin, but invariably Black-
beard shouted, "Faster, woman, faster!" Then he
Blackbeard the Pirate
would let fly with his pistol, aiming at her feet,
sending ball after ball crashing into the floor within
only an inch or so of her toes. Terrified, his wife
would leap higher and higher to avoid being
wounded, the music beating faster and faster until
she dropped exhausted and fainting to the floor.
Blackbeard's method of getting rid of a wife
was ingenious and deadly.
When the pirate was ready to dispose of her he
would remark, "You have heard of my vast trea-
sure, my darling. Perhaps you have wondered
whether it really exists. Now I will prove to you
how fortunate you are in having married such a
Then he would lead her down into the treasure
vault far below the tower. Flinging open a heavily
barred door and holding aloft a brightly burning
torch, he would reveal the vast extent of his trea-
sure. Ranged around the wall was chest after
chest, brimming with golden doubloons and pieces
of eight, caskets of jewels, golden candlesticks
and plates of solid silver.
"Feast your eyes on my treasure, ladybird,"
Blackbeard would say with a guttural laugh. "All
this will be yours-when I die!"
As the dazzled woman knelt excitedly in front
of one of the caskets of jewels, examining them
with envy, Blackbeard would suddenly back out
of the vault, snap the lock and leave the unfor-
tunate woman to die in her golden tomb.
Wife number thirteen turned out to be unlucky
for Blackbeard. Through the kindness of an old
negro servant, she had heard of the pirate's ghastly
scheme and was determined not to be caught nap-
ping. When Blackbeard invited her into the vault,
she went readily enough, but, quick as a flash, she
turned and dashed out again, slamming the door
on her would-be murderer. They say that Black-
beard shouted and raved down there for hours
before he was freed.
The nimble young girl who turned the tables
on Blackbeard was only sixteen years old and an
American. Some say she was from New York.
Her nimble-witted act saved her life. She made
good her escape that very night aboard a brig for
Finally Blackbeard became tired of shore life at
St. Thomas and put to sea again in Queen Anne's
Revenge. He stopped at New Providence, but
found that since his last visit, pirates had become
decidedly unpopular and a British fleet was in the
offing. So he hastily hove anchor and pointed
Blackbeard the Pirate
northward, having heard that there was easy
plunder among the shipping off the Carolina coast.
Governor Eden of the colony of Carolina was a
politician, not too particular about the way he
made money. It appears that shortly after Black-
beard's arrival, the two became close friends and,
secretly, business partners. From that time on, no
ship was safe from plunder. Even the planters
and colonists were "shaken down" much in the
same manner as our modern racketeers try to in-
timidate honest businessmen with threats that
harm will be done to them unless they pay "pro-
tection money." So it can be said that Blackbeard
was the great-great grandfather of our present-
day racketeers, although his men were armed with
cutlasses and pistols instead of "rods" and "tommy
Ship-owners and planters were faced with ruin
as the result of Blackbeard's activities on sea and
land. Time after time they appealed to Governor
Eden for protection and assistance. He put them
off with vague promises, for, of course, he was
hand in glove with the pirates.
In desperation, the citizens sent a petition to
Lieutenant-Governor Spottswood of the Colony of
Virginia, praying him to send an armed force
against the ruthless robber who was destroying
everything they owned.
Governor Spottswood was not only honest, but
a man of action as well. He promised the people
of North Carolina full cooperation and im-
mediately began organizing an expedition under
the command of young Lieutenant Robert May-
nard of His Majesty's sloop-of-war, Pearl.
Maynard was a fearless young man, ready for
any kind of adventure. He was enthusiastic at
the prospect of hunting down this rogue, Black-
beard, especially as Spottswood had promised him
a hundred pounds in gold if he brought back Black-
beard dead or alive.
Many a time Blackbeard had boasted that he
would never die in bed or with a noose about his
neck. He swore he would meet his end on the deck
of his own ship, cutlass and pistol in hand. And
that is exactly what happened.
With the greatest secrecy Lieutenant Maynard
set sail, on November 17, 1718, aboard the sloop-
of-war, Pearl, in search of the pirate. A smaller
sloop accompanied Maynard. On the voyage
down Pamlico Sound, all vessels were stopped and
turned back to prevent Blackbeard from being
warned. The only way that the wily sea-robber
Blackbeard the Pirate
could be trapped, Maynard knew, was to surprise
him completely, before he could hoist sail and
Yet in spite of these precautions, Blackbeard re-
ceived the news from a friendly fisherman. But
many times during the pirate's reign of terror he
had received similar warnings-and nothing had
happened. So when the fisherman told him, he
merely clapped him on the back and invited him
down into the cabin for a drink. One glass of rum
led to another, until they and all the crew were
having a hilarious drinking bout, vying with each
other to see who could quaff the most rum.
About midnight, Blackbeard's quartermaster
asked, "Captain, if we fight on the morrow and
you die, does your wife (his fourteenth) know
where your treasure is buried?"
For answer Blackbeard pounded his huge fist
on the cabin table and thundered a string of sea
oaths, adding emphatically that "Nobody but my-
self and the devil knows where my treasure is
buried-and the longest liver takes all!"
At dawn Lieutenant Maynard sighted the pirate
ship lying at anchor in the shallow waters of Ocra-
coke Inlet. Immediately Lieutenant Maynard
hoisted British colors and bore down on his enemy.
In spite of their all-night carousal, the pirates
were on the alert. They quickly hove up anchor
and fired their bow gun as soon as the king's sloops
came within range. During the excitement both
opponents ran their ships aground on a sand bar,
but Lieutenant Maynard quickly lightened his
sloops by throwing overboard everything that
could be spared. When he had worked clear, he
once more headed for the enemy.
As he came within hailing distance, he saw
the gigantic figure of Blackbeard appear on
deck. The pirate chief shook his fist at the
British sloops and thundered, "Blast you for
villains Who are you and from whence do
"You can see from our colors that we are no
pirates" Lieutenant Maynard shouted back.
Stung by this answer, Blackbeard poured him-
self a glass of rum, held it toward his enemy and
drank a grim toast to Maynard, swearing that he
would give no quarter nor ask for any.
In reply, Maynard let loose with his bow chaser
-and the battle was on. Just at this moment a
breeze sprang up and filled the Pearl's sails suf-
ficiently to bring her crashing against the side of
Blackbeard's ship. Maynard's men had been con-