Publisher's Note: The following chapter is from Teach's Light: A Tale of Blackbeard the Pirate by Nell Wise Wechter. Copyright ©1974 by Marcia Wechter Kass. Reproduction in any form is prohibited without the express permission of the UNC Press.


Chapter One from:
Teach's Light: A Tale of Blackbeard the Pirate
by Nell Wise Wechter

The day before yesterday always has been a glamor day. The present is prosaic. Time colors history as it does a meerschaum pipe. --Vincent Starrett

"Teach's Light is really cutting didoes tonight," Fran Davis said as he laid down his pipe on the coffee table. Toby, his son, and Corky Calhoun, the next-door neighbor girl, sat on the screened porch with Mr. Davis. The three of them had been talking since suppertime about the things they planned to do during the coming summer-camping expeditions, beach outings, and prospective trips to New England and Canada.

Toby slipped his hassock closer to the window. "Man alive," he squealed, "look at that light. It's bobbling up and down like a satellite out of orbit."

"Atmospheric conditions are probably just right this evening for the light to be visible," Mr. Davis replied. "Strange thing, Teach's Light." He shook his head, silently wondering what caused the phenomenon.

"It looks like a round stingray with dancing legs," Corky said, laughing.

"Golly, just think of all the years the light has been seen across the Bay over Little Dismal Swamp," Toby marveled.

"People around these parts have been seeing it for nearly three hundred years," Mr. Davis told them. "Through the centuries, folks have handed down the yarn that the bobbing light is guarding one of Blackbeard's treasures, which the pirate supposedly buried somewhere on the fringes of Little Dismal."

"Yeah, I know," Toby answered. "It's curious why the light always seems to stay in the same general place. Maybe it is guarding some of Blackbeard's booty. Or, perhaps it's trying to show folks where the treasure really is buried."

"For mercy sakes, Toby." Corky laughed derisively. "You don't still hold with that old tale Grandpop used to tell us when we were little, do you?"

"Well, now, your grandfather surely seemed to believe there was something peculiar about Teach's Light," Toby affirmed.

"Grandpop was a seafaring man, and old salts like him sometimes had a superstitious streak in them. I can just see Grandpop in my mind's eye, taking out his brass telescope--long glass he called it--adjusting it to our eyes, and telling us to look closely and we might even see Teach's ghost dancing in front of the light. If I remember correctly, your behavior and mine around Grandpop was pretty good for several hours thereafter," Corky said, chuckling.

"You can't prove that your grandfather didn't know what he was talking about, now can you?" Toby insisted. "Teach's Light is still in the same place it was then, isn't it? Hey. I know what. Why don't you go home and get that spyglass so we can look at the light?" Excitement caught Toby up, making his eyes sparkle.

"All right," Corky told him, catching his enthusiasm. "It won't take a minute. The glass is hanging on the wall by my bed. That's where I put it when Grandpop passed away. Its being there on the wall sort of makes me feel that a little part of Grandpa is still around." She sighed, and then was out of the Davis porch and had gone across the yard to her own house.

Toby jumped up and went inside the house to his bedroom, where he pulled a map off his desk and got an old-time compass and protractor set out of a drawer. By that time Corky was back.

"Let me have it, please," Toby requested, taking the big brass instrument. "Golly," he said, squinting at the dim letters on the telescope. "This thing was made by Dixie Limited, London, in 1600."

"It's old," Corky agreed. "Grandpop said it was a nautical glass which probably came off one of the early English privateers."

"I'll bet it did, too," Mr. Davis told them, taking a look at the lettering.

"Could have," Corky said. "Grandpop made lots of voyages to England and down the Caribbean. He was always bringing home odd things. Our barn has one corner full of ships' lanterns, binnacles, quadrants, and all kinds of seafaring stuff."

Toby pulled the glass out to full length. The lens was excellent. In a second or two he had the telescope adjusted to his sight. "Man, oh, man," he said, breathing in an awed way, "look at that light go!" He handed the glass to Corky for a look, while he plastered his face to the screen and stared at the dancing light across the Bay.

"Young people," Mr. Davis told them, "I'm going to leave you with your legends of Blackbeard and his dancing light and go join Mrs. Davis at the television set. It won't be too long now before summer reruns start and TV will be a bore for another three months. Now, Toby," he said, winking at Corky and grinning, "you get that treasure map all fixed up so when Dr. Calhoun and I get ready to take you kids deer-hunting with us this fall, you can take your map and lead us right straight to Blackbeard's loot!" He roared with laughter as he closed the screen door behind him.

"Your dad is a real tease," Corky said. Like Mr. Davis, she held no strong beliefs about the light over the swamp. She accepted the fact that it was there and did not really pay it very much mind.

"Dad doesn't hold with any of the old legends," Toby told her. "Black is black, and white is white. There isn't any gray where he is concerned. I wish he would believe in some of the stories," he said, sighing plaintively.

"He's a realist instead of a romantic like you," Corky told him. She took another squint through the glass. "It surely makes a person wonder though--that crazy light--bobbing over the swamp all these years without anybody coming up with any answers of how or why it's there. Yep, it surely does make a body wonder."

"I know that legends are folk tales that many people label pure fiction," Toby said, frowning. "But how about the legend of how Nags Head got its name? That's not so farfetched. And that Lost Lady--Theodosia Burr--off Kill Devil? And what about the story of Virginia Dare and the Lost Colony? Seems to me that people in the olden days had so much work to do just to keep alive that they didn't have time to make up a pack of lies to tell about such things. I believe in Teach's Light. There's got to be something true about it, or it just wouldn't stay there in the same place for three hundred years. What do you think?"

"I don't know what I really think," Corky told him, wrinkling her brow in deep thought. "I believe in ESP and intuition, and sometimes I know I have premonitions that come true. Lots of people would call that believing in the supernatural and would certainly call me some kind of a nut. I surely do agree that there's something eerie about Teach's Light. What it is, I can't even begin to guess. But Toby, it does seem a little far out to believe that an inanimate thing like a light is guarding a treasure. I can't seem to swallow that bit."

Toby frowned. It was plain he did not entirely agree with her thinking. "Some pirate ships were wrecked before their crews could save the booty crammed in the holds," he told her. "Just the other day I read about some divers finding a lot of treasure in an old Spanish wreck off the Florida Keys."

"Granted," Corky said, nodding her agreement. "But the newspaper certainly didn't say a word about any crazy light hovering over the water to guide the divers to the treasure," she told him, grinning.

"Okeh," Toby said forlornly, feeling that he was losing his argument. However, he was determined to bring in all the points he could. "How about what Dr. Hugh Rankin wrote in his book about pirates in colonial Carolina? He said that sometimes when a band of pirates were brought to bay and were preparing to fight their way out, they would hide their loot ashore on the eve of battle if they didn't want to be caught with the goods. Dr. Rankin also wrote that many pirates had such successful cruises they actually had to put some of their plunder ashore and bury it. Now, how come Blackbeard couldnąt have done just that?" Toby demanded earnestly.

"You certainly have a good point," Corky returned. Interest shone in her face. "Like Captain Flood," she said, remembering. "He was a pirate who held out on his crew and hid extra amounts above his share. Then, later, he went back to the hiding places and got his booty. But even if Blackbeard did hide some of his treasures, that's still no explanation for the light over the swamp."

"Toby! Corky!" Mrs. Davis called from the house. "Looks like a good movie coming up on television."

But Toby and Corky were oblivious to everything except their own animated conversation and Teach's Light, which was putting on a first-class show of its own against the wide screen of the dark sky over Little Dismal.

There was another who watched Teach's Light!

As he watched, a great wave of agitation shook his tall body. The man was old and grizzled; still he seemed of great strength. His blue eyes shot madness that was cold as a Norwegian fjord. His thin-lipped mouth was cruel-looking, and it sat like a gash between his strong jaws. At the moment, he stood among scattered crab pots at the unkempt landing where he kept his shove-skiff. Back a few yards was his shack, which he had built of driftwood and debris which constantly washed up on the sandy shore of Casey's Point on the edge of Little Dismal Swamp.

The man raised his arms and shook his fists at Teach's Light. Sometimes the light was a ball and seemed to hover over the shack, casting weird, moving shadows over the rough structure. Then, long tentacles of brilliance seemed to run down to the trees, where they twined with the branches.

"By the beard of St. Olaf!" He roared out the Norwegian oath to the heavens. "It's the damned Allemands *(Germans) setting Heaven afire with their flying machines. The box! I must get the secret box."

He turned and walked rapidly to the shack, where he blew out a kerosene lantern that sat on an orange crate. Then he hurried out and closed the door of the shack behind him.

Nels Sven, dubbed the "Mad Russian" by the natives on the village side of the Bay, was really a Norwegian. He dated back to World War II. Very little, in fact, was known about him, but the villagers believed that he was crazier than a bedbug in kerosene. They were very glad that Sven lived on the opposite side of the Bay from the village. Even so, his very presence, anywhere near the village, was an unpleasantness to them.

Old though Sven might be, he now pursued his way on a path that was hidden by a thicket of gall bushes. He moved like a shadow, a falling leaf, a stalking panther.

Down at the base of a giant cypress, he squatted and, with dextrous hands, began digging. The soft, peaty soil made next to no sound as it flew out and hit the earth.

"Ach, the box!" he said exultantly, the madness in his eyes intensifying as he pulled the box out by its handle.

He pressed to his breast the packet he had dug up. The color, in the moonlight, seemed a dull gray. Teach's Light danced over him, sending shimmering prongs of light down upon him.

"German devils," he cursed, shaking his fist at the light, "Sven will give you a taste of Loki's thunder. Your iron hunters will feel the steel of Sven's box."

Then, like a wraith, Sven disappeared through the edge of Little Dismal. Like a teasing will-o'-the-wisp, Teach's Light, above the trees, seemed to bobble over the "Mad Russian."


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