To terrorize the prisoners the more, though with a certain loss of dignity, he danced along an imaginary plank, grimacing at them as he sang; and when he finished he cried, ‘Do you want a touch of the cat before you walk the plank?’

At that they fell on their knees. ‘No, no,’ they cried so piteously that every pirate smiled.

‘Fetch the cat, Jukes,’ said Hook; ‘it’s in the cabin.’

The cabin! Peter was in the cabin! The children gazed at each other.

‘Aye, aye,’ said Jukes blithely, and he strode into the cabin. They followed him with their eyes; they scarce knew that Hook had resumed his song, his dogs joining in with him:

‘Yo ho, yo ho, the scratching cat,
Its tails are nine, you know,
And when they’re writ upon your back——’

What was the last line will never be known, for of a sudden the song was stayed by a dreadful screech from the cabin. It wailed through the ship, and died away. Then was heard a crowing sound which was well understood by the boys, but to the pirates was almost more eerie than the screech.

‘What was that?’ cried Hook.

‘Two,’ said Slightly solemnly.

The Italian Cecco hesitated for a moment and then swung into the cabin. He tottered out, haggard.

‘What’s the matter with Bill Jukes, you dog?’ hissed Hook, towering over him.

‘The matter wi’ him is he’s dead, stabbed,’ replied Cecco in a hollow voice.

‘Bill Jukes dead!’ cried the startled pirates.

‘The cabin’s as black as a pit,’ Cecco said, almost gibbering, ‘but there is something terrible in there: the thing you heard crowing.’

The exultation of the boys, the lowering looks of the pirates, both were seen by Hook.

‘Cecco,’ he said in his most steely voice, ‘go back and fetch me out that doodle-doo.’

Cecco, bravest of the brave, cowered before his captain, crying, ‘No, no’: but Hook was purring to his claw.

‘Did you say you would go, Cecco?’ he said musingly.

Cecco went, first flinging up his arms despairingly. There was no more singing, all listened now; and again came a death-screech and again a crow.

No one spoke except Slightly. ‘Three,’ he said.

Hook rallied his dogs with a gesture. ‘’Sdeath and odds fish,’ he thundered, ‘who is to bring me that doodle-doo?’

‘Wait till Cecco comes out,’ growled Starkey, and the others took up the cry.

‘I think I heard you volunteer, Starkey,’ said Hook, purring again.

‘No, by thunder!’ Starkey cried.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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