Read an Excerpt
Late in the year 1716 Big John Ludd came home from sea. He left ship in London, but he stayed in the great city not at all. With his sea chest on his shoulder, he began to walk.
All day he walked through w ind and snow. It was night when he came to a village on the bank of a river.
He stopped at a poor little house. "Open! " he shouted, and he beat on the door with his fist.
A cry came from inside. "Children, it's your father! Your father's come home !"
A woman opened the door. "Oh, my dear husband!" she cried.
"Let me in, woman. It's freezing cold outside." He pushed her out of the doorway and went into the house.
A few coals burned in the fireplace. There was no other light in the room.
He sat down by the fire.
"My dear husband," the woman said again. "It's good to see you there in your old place.
"How are the children?" he asked.
"As well as can be, all seven of them," she said. "They just had their supper."
"Well, where are they?" he shouted. "Don't they know their father's home?"
In the dark corners of the room, shadows began to move. A snub-nosed boy came out into the firelight. He pushed his long black hair out of his eyes.
"That's a good boy, Jacky," said the woman. "Run and give your father a kiss."
The boy's face turned red. "Oh, Ma! " he said.
"You're a fine lad, Jacky -- a fine, big lad," said his father. "Now let's have a look at the others."
One by one, the rest of the seven came out into the light. They were all boys, with black hair and snub noses. The two smallest ones began to cry.
"Don't bemaking faces at me!" said Big John. "I'm your father."
"They are only babies," said their mother, "and you've been gone a year. You can't blame them if they don't know you yet."
Jacky went close to his father. "There's more here that you've not seen," he said.
"Hush!" said his mother.
"What's this?" asked Big John. "Who is here that I've not seen?"
"Don't be angry," said his wife. "Promise me you won't be angry."
"I'll promise nothing. What are you keeping from me?" Big John tried to look into the shadows. "Who is hiding there?"
A girl came out into the light. She was a pretty girl with a pale, frightened face.
Behind her came a boy. He was straight and tall, and his hair was red. He said in a clear voice, "We weren't hiding, sir. "
Big John's mouth fell open. "Well!" he said. "And who might you be? "
"Tom Pippin, sir," said the boy, "and this is my sister, Dinah."
Big John looked at his wife.
"These are my brother's children," she said. "They came here after my poor brother died. They had no mother or father-"
"They came here to live?" said Big John.
"They had no other place to go," she said.
"How long have they been here?" he asked.
"Two months," she said.
Jacky spoke up. "It's three months."
His mother said quickly, "To bed, you children. To bed now, all of you. "
The children went to bed. They curled up like cats wherever they could find a place. Some slept on an old mat. Some slept on the bare floor.
Big John and his wife sat alone by the fire.
She said in a low voice, "Don't be angry, please. I couldn't turn my brother's children away. Tom is only twelve, just the age of our Jacky. The girl is ten andsmall for her age. They can't look out for themselves." "Three months!" said Big John." Three months those brats have been here, taking the bread from my children's mouths."
"They don't eat much," she said. "The girl cats no more than a bird, and she's a good little thing. I'm glad to have a girl in the house. She helps in ever so many ways."
"That may be," said Big John, "but what about the boy?"
"Tom's not a bad boy," she said. "He and the girl are different from our children, but I'm fond of them -- "
"Different?" said Big John. "How do you mean?"
"Their father was a schoolmaster, you know," she said. "They can read and write."
"They can, can they?" said Big John. "Maybe they think that makes them better than us. But they're not too good to live in my house and eat my bread."
"Please!" whispered his wife. "They'll hear you."
"Let them hear me, then," he said." This is their last night under my roof. Out they go tomorrow!"Pirate's Promise. Copyright © by Clyde Bulla. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.