Once upon a time, and in the days of sail, on a tropical island somewhere in the Caribbean, a seaman waxed old and, growing very sick, holed up in an upper room at the back of a shabby seaside inn. The innkeeper, a widow, had an only son. This young man, a boy really, dutifully ran errands for his mother and did the many odd chores about the inn, and daily fetched pitchers of fresh water for the wash basin and also brought up the evening victuals for the old man. The local authorities were well aware of the old man’s presence and long suspected he’d once been a pirate, but they had no tangible proof.
One day, as the seaman lay eyes-closed upon his bed, the young lad crept quietly in to change the chamberpot. The old man opened his eyes, cleared his throat to draw his attention and beckoned the boy nearer. He spoke: “I’ve always respected an industrious man. You’re quick and to the purpose. You seem a bright young fellow – are you a good businessman? For instance, have you laid by any money?”
“Yes sir, I have, sir.”
“How much have you laid by thus far?”
“Ten shillings sir.”
“All in all? And all together? And all to yourself?”
“All in all sir, and all to myself.”
“Ten shillings isn’t bad for one so young.”
“I too have set aside from my own youth and against this very day. But it seems to such little purpose now as I find I can’t buy back my youth. I’ve reached the point in life where I have far more money than time. Money is no longer a comfort. So, if you’re game, I’d like to do some business with you.”
“What kind of business?” asked the lad.
The old man produced an old rolled-up parchment from under his blanket and said: “For that ten shillings of yours I’ll sell you this here treasure map. It’s my life savings but no longer useful to me.”
“No longer useful?” asked the lad.
“No longer useful. All the gold in the Spanish Main won’t buy me another day of life.”
“Oh.” The boy looked at the map, fascinated. He thought about it for a moment then silently nodded in agreement.
“Then take that ten shillings and bring me some rum. A bit o’ the grog is the only comfort left for one such as me.”
The young man made haste to bring him the rum.
Early the next morning a small company of the Governor’s men were on shore patrol along a wide stretch of beach. They heard the vigorous sounds of a hand shovel digging from somewhere behind a cluster of palm trees just above the high tide line. They signalled “quiet” to each other then crept closer and observed the young man just as he set aside the shovel and was bare-handed clearing off the top a great sea chest buried just a little beneath the sand.
“What have we here?” asked the patrol leader, announcing their presence to the startled young man.
“Open it.” they all said.
The outflanked youngster sheepishly complied. Using the blade of his shovel, he pried up the now rusted hasp. Pulling hard to overcome the resistance of the old hinges, he brought the contents to light. Gold coins, jewels, ingots of silver and plate. A trove of treasure revealed. The men immediately recognized the collection as booty taken in several pirate raids of not many years past.
“Me thinks the good Governor has a few questions for you, m’lad.”
They took the young man roughly into custody and carried the chest to the Colonial Governor’s palace.
At the palace the young man was quizzed by the governor’s Deputy. Being guileless and already fearful he answered all questions crisply, honestly, and forthrightly. The Deputy conveyed the boy’s story to the Governor. The Governor in turn sent other men to fetch the old man from the seaside inn. By now the old man was so sickly and weak it took four stout men to carry him in a chair to face the Governor.
The sea chest sat in the corner of the Governor’s office and the map rolled out upon his desk. The old man and the boy were escorted in and sat down before the Governor.
The Governor studied the map for a few silent minutes then asked: “Whose map is this?”
“Mine, sir.” said the boy. “I bought it from the old man.”
“And how much did you pay for the map?” asked the Governor.
“Ten shillings, sir. I paid ten whole shillings for the map.”
The old man just shook his head in denial.
“And whose chest is this?” asked the Governor, indicating the glittering pile in the corner.
“Mine too, sir. The map, sir – it led me right to it.” said the boy.
“So you bought the map and the chest together from this man for ten shillings?” Queried the Governor.
“All in all and all together, sir.” answered the boy.
“Do you know why you were brought here?” Asked the Governor.
“No sir. I don’t sir.” said the boy.
The Governor cleared his throat. “It’s like this, son. This is no ordinary map. This here is a treasure map. The markings on it led you to this chest. Is that correct?”
“Yes. That’s correct, sir.”
The Governor continued: “This chest contains a pirate’s booty. This is a pirate’s loot. This treasure was taken in a pirate raid. It was stolen, see? People were robbed of it. People were hurt in the taking of it. And some were even killed. This is a pirate’s treasure map. This is a pirate’s loot. Do you still say they belong to you?”
The Governor turned to the old man. The old man just kept shaking his head.
“This was your map?” he asked.
“I know nothing of this map.” replied the old man. “I think the lad is daft; crazy in the head if you ast me. I seen him now a’ then; skulking about, toting chamberpots the day long. Methinks he’s been tippling a bit o’ seawater. That’s what it is. I ain’t no damned pirate, never was.”
“So you deny knowledge of this treasure or how it was obtained? You deny selling him this map?”
“The boy’s mad I tell ye. That or he’s a lyin’ fool. I know nothing at all of this affair.”
The governor looked at everyone around the room and returned his gaze to the boy.
“I declare…” he intoned, “I declare that
A Robbery is in fact a robbery, and
A Murder is in fact a murder, and
This Map is marked a treasure map, and this
Loot is recognized loot, and a
Victim is a victim, and a
Pirate is a pirate, and
You, Sir, (pointing a gnarled finger at the boy)
Are a Pirate.”
“No, No, No, No, No! “cried the boy. The situation just dawning on him.
‘I ain’t no pirate! I never robbed nobody! I never killed nobody! I ain’t stole nothin’! I ain’t never even put to sea! The map is mine, sure. But I bought it fair ‘n square!”
The Governor raised a hand and gestured to his men and said “Take him out and hang him.”
“And what of the old man?” Asked one of the men.
“Hang them both.” replied the Governor.