Five young Bas-Thorntons live on the family’s run-down sugar plantation in Jamaica. On the day after Emily’s tenth birthday, they are allowed to make their first visit away from home. They go to meet Margaret and Harry Fernandez, children of Creole neighbors, on a nearby plantation. The Fernandez children often run around barefoot, like blacks; Emily thinks it quite wonderful. During their visit, the region is shaken by a slight earthquake. Emily is wildly excited and gallops her pony into the sea. For the first time she realizes that there are forces in the world over which neither she nor adults have any control.
If the earthquake is the most thrilling event of Emily’s life, the death of a pet cat is soon to be the most terrible. The next evening, back home, a hurricane strikes the island. While the house shakes under the force of wind and rain, Tabby streaks through the house and dashes out into the storm pursued by a pack of wild jungle cats. That night, the house and the surrounding countryside are blown flat, but to the children the destruction is nothing compared with the mystery of Tabby’s horrible fate.
Mr. and Mrs. Bas-Thornton have no way of knowing what is passing through the children’s minds. Fearing that the hurricane must have been a shock to them, the parents reluctantly decide to send them back to England to school. They and the Fernandez children are shortly put aboard the Clorinda, in care of Captain James Marpole.
Pirates board the vessel off the Cuban coast. The Clorinda’s stores and valuables are seized, and the children are removed to the marauder for their supper. Captain Marpole, mistaking efforts to return the children for the splash of bodies thrown overboard, leaves the scene under full sail. Later, he writes the Bas-Thorntons that the pirates callously murdered the children. Actually, Captain Jonsen, leader of the pirate crew, is surprised to find himself the custodian of seven young travelers.
The pirate ship goes to Santa Lucia, Cuba, where the Clorinda’s cargo is auctioned off. While playing there, Emily’s older brother John falls forty feet to his death from a warehouse doorway. The pirate ship presently puts to sea with the surviving children.
For weeks, the pirate ship sails aimlessly over the ocean in search of booty. The children are allowed to do much as they please and to amuse themselves with two pigs and a monkey that the vessel carries. Emily begins to be aware of her identity as a separate personality; the shipboard life that she accepted unquestioningly at first begins to disturb her. One night, Captain Jonsen comes into the children’s quarters in a drunken state. When he tries to stroke Emily’s hair, she bites his thumb. Margaret, more mature, is sick after the incident, but a few days later, she goes to the captain’s cabin to live. From that time on, she avoids the other children.
(The entire section is 1203 words.)