“Pieces of Eight”
Owing to the cant of the vessel, the masts hung far out over the water, and from my perch on the cross-trees I had nothing below me but the surface of the bay. Hands, who was not so far up, was in consequence nearer to the ship and fell between me and the bulwarks. He rose once to the surface in a lather of foam and blood and then sank again for good. As the water settled, I could see him lying huddled together on the clean, bright sand in the shadow of the vessel’s sides. A fish or two whipped past his body. Sometimes, by the quivering of the water, he appeared to move a little, as if he were trying to rise. But he was dead enough, for all that, being both shot and drowned, and was food for fish in the very place where he had designed my slaughter.
I was no sooner certain of this than I began to feel sick, faint, and terrified. The hot blood was running over my back and chest. The dirk, where it had pinned my shoulder to the mast, seemed to burn like a hot iron; yet it was not so much these real sufferings that distressed me, for these, it seemed to me, I could bear without a murmur; it was the horror I had upon my mind of falling from the cross-trees into that still green water, beside the body of the coxswain.
I clung with both hands till my nails ached, and I shut my eyes as if to cover up the peril. Gradually my mind came back again, my pulses quieted down to a more natural time, and I was once more in possession of myself.
It was my first thought to pluck forth the dirk, but either it stuck too hard or my nerve failed me, and I desisted with a violent shudder. Oddly enough, that very shudder did the business. The knife, in fact, had come the nearest in the world to missing me altogether; it held me by a mere pinch of skin, and this the shudder tore away. The blood ran down the faster, to be sure, but I was my own master again and only tacked to the mast by my coat and shirt.
These last I broke through with a sudden jerk, and then regained the deck by the starboard shrouds. For nothing in the world would I have again ventured, shaken as I was, upon the overhanging port shrouds from which Israel had so lately fallen.
I went below and did what I could for my wound; it pained me a good deal and still bled freely, but it was neither deep nor dangerous, nor did it greatly gall me when I used my arm. Then I looked around me, and as the ship was now, in a sense, my own, I began to think of clearing it from its last passenger—the dead man, O’Brien.
He had pitched, as I have said, against the bulwarks, where he lay like some horrible, ungainly sort of puppet, life-size, indeed, but how different from life’s colour or life’s comeliness! In that position I could easily have my way with him, and as the habit of tragical adventures had worn off almost all my terror for the dead, I took him by the waist as if he had been a sack of bran and with one good heave, tumbled him overboard. He went in with a sounding plunge; the red cap came off and remained floating on the surface; and as soon as the splash subsided, I could see him and Israel lying side by side, both wavering with the tremulous movement of the water. O’Brien, though still quite a young man, was very bald. There he lay, with that bald head across the knees of the man who had killed him and the quick fishes steering to and fro over both.
I was now alone upon the ship; the tide had just turned. The sun was within so few degrees of setting that already the shadow of the pines upon the western shore began to reach right across the anchorage and fall in patterns on the deck. The evening breeze had sprung up, and though it was well warded off by the hill with the two peaks upon the east, the cordage had begun to sing a little softly to itself and the idle sails to rattle to and fro.
I began to see a danger to the ship. The jibs I speedily doused and brought tumbling to the deck, but the main-sail was a harder matter. Of course, when the schooner canted over, the boom had swung out-board, and the cap of it and a foot or two of sail hung even under water. I thought this made it still more dangerous; yet the strain was so heavy that I half feared to meddle. At last I got my knife and cut the halyards. The peak dropped instantly, a great belly of loose canvas floated broad upon the water, and since, pull as I liked, I could not budge the downhall, that was the extent of what I could accomplish. For the rest, the Hispaniola must trust to luck, like myself.
By this time the whole anchorage had fallen into shadow—the last rays, I remember, falling through a glade of the wood and shining bright as jewels on the flowery mantle of the wreck. It began to be chill; the tide was rapidly fleeting seaward, the schooner settling more and more on her beam-ends.
I scrambled forward and looked over. It seemed shallow enough, and holding the cut hawser in both hands for a last security, I let myself drop softly overboard. The water scarcely reached my waist; the sand was firm and covered with ripple marks, and I waded ashore in great spirits, leaving the Hispaniola on her side, with her main-sail trailing wide upon the surface of the bay. About the same time, the sun went fairly down and the breeze whistled low in the dusk among the tossing pines.
At least, and at last, I was off the sea, nor had I returned thence empty-handed. There lay the schooner, clear at last from buccaneers and ready for our own men to board and get to sea again. I had nothing nearer my fancy than to get home to the stockade and boast of my achievements. Possibly I might be blamed a bit for my truantry, but the recapture of the Hispaniolawas a clenching answer, and I hoped that even Captain Smollett would confess I had not lost my time.
So thinking, and in famous spirits, I began to set my face homeward for the block house and my companions. I remembered that the most easterly of the rivers which drain into Captain Kidd’s anchorage ran from the two-peaked hill upon my left, and I bent my course in that direction that I might pass the stream while it was small. The wood was pretty open, and keeping along the lower spurs, I had soon turned the corner of that hill, and not long after waded to the mid-calf across the watercourse.
This brought me near to where I had encountered Ben Gunn, the maroon; and I walked more circumspectly, keeping an eye on every side. The dusk had come nigh hand completely, and as I opened out the cleft between the two peaks, I became aware of a wavering glow against the sky, where, as I judged, the man of the island was cooking his supper before a roaring fire. And yet I wondered, in my heart, that he should show himself so careless. For if I could see this radiance, might it not reach the eyes of Silver himself where he camped upon the shore among the marshes?
Gradually the night fell blacker; it was all I could do to guide myself even roughly towards my destination; the double hill behind me and the Spy-glass on my right hand loomed faint and fainter; the stars were few and pale; and in the low ground where I wandered I kept tripping among bushes and rolling into sandy pits.
Suddenly a kind of brightness fell about me. I looked up; a pale glimmer of moonbeams had alighted on the summit of the Spy-glass, and soon after I saw something broad and silvery moving low down behind the trees, and knew the moon had risen.
With this to help me, I passed rapidly over what remained to me of my journey, and sometimes walking, sometimes running,
impatiently drew near to the stockade. Yet, as I began to thread the grove that lies before it, I was not so thoughtless but that I slacked my pace and went a trifle warily. It would have been a poor end of my adventures to get shot down by my own party in mistake.
The moon was climbing higher and higher, its light began to fall here and there in masses through the more open districts of the wood, and right in front of me a glow of a different colour appeared among the trees. It was red and hot, and now and again it was a little darkened—as it were, the embers of a bonfire smouldering.
For the life of me I could not think what it might be.
At last I came right down upon the borders of the clearing. The western end was already steeped in moonshine; the rest, and the block house itself, still lay in a black shadow chequered with long silvery streaks of light. On the other side of the house an immense fire had burned itself into clear embers and shed a steady, red reverberation, contrasted strongly with the mellow paleness of the moon. There was not a soul stirring nor a sound beside the noises of the breeze.
I stopped, with much wonder in my heart, and perhaps a little terror also. It had not been our way to build great fires; we were, indeed, by the captain’s orders, somewhat stingy of firewood, and I began to fear that something had gone wrong while I was absent.
I stole round by the eastern end, keeping close in shadow, and at a convenient place, where the darkness was thickest, crossed the palisade.
To make assurance surer, I got upon my hands and knees and crawled, without a sound, towards the corner of the house. As I drew nearer, my heart was suddenly and greatly lightened. It is not a pleasant noise in itself, and I have often complained of it at other times, but just then it was like music to hear my friends snoring together so loud and peaceful in their sleep. The sea-cry of the watch, that beautiful “All’s well,” never fell more reassuringly on my ear.
In the meantime, there was no doubt of one thing; they kept an infamous bad watch. If it had been Silver and his lads that were now creeping in on them, not a soul would have seen daybreak. That was what it was, thought I, to have the captain wounded; and again I blamed myself sharply for leaving them in that danger with so few to mount guard.
By this time I had got to the door and stood up. All was dark within, so that I could distinguish nothing by the eye. As for sounds, there was the steady drone of the snorers and a small occasional noise, a flickering or pecking that I could in no way account for.
With my arms before me I walked steadily in. I should lie down in my own place (I thought with a silent chuckle) and enjoy their faces when they found me in the morning.
My foot struck something yielding—it was a sleeper’s leg; and he turned and groaned, but without awaking.
And then, all of a sudden, a shrill voice broke forth out of the darkness:
“Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight!” and so forth, without pause or change, like the clacking of a tiny mill.
Silver’s green parrot, Captain Flint! It was she whom I had heard pecking at a piece of bark; it was she, keeping better watch than any human being, who thus announced my arrival with her wearisome refrain.
I had no time left me to recover. At the sharp, clipping tone of the parrot, the sleepers awoke and sprang up; and with a mighty oath, the voice of Silver cried, “Who goes?”
I turned to run, struck violently against one person, recoiled, and ran full into the arms of a second, who for his part closed upon and held me tight.
“Bring a torch, Dick,” said Silver when my capture was thus assured.
And one of the men left the log-house and presently returned with a lighted brand.
PART SIX—Captain Silver
In the Enemy’s Camp
The red glare of the torch, lighting up the interior of the block house, showed me the worst of my apprehensions realized. The pirates were in possession of the house and stores: there was the cask of cognac, there were the pork and bread, as before, and what tenfold increased my horror, not a sign of any prisoner. I could only judge that all had perished, and my heart smote me sorely that I had not been there to perish with them.
There were six of the buccaneers, all told; not another man was left alive. Five of them were on their feet, flushed and swollen, suddenly called out of the first sleep of drunkenness. The sixth had only risen upon his elbow; he was deadly pale, and the blood-stained bandage round his head told that he had recently been wounded, and still more recently dressed. I remembered the man who had been shot and had run back among the woods in the great attack, and doubted not that this was he.
The parrot sat, preening her plumage, on Long John’s shoulder. He himself, I thought, looked somewhat paler and more stern than I was used to. He still wore the fine broadcloth suit in which he had fulfilled his mission, but it was bitterly the worse for wear, daubed with clay and torn with the sharp briers of the wood.
“So,” said he, “here’s Jim Hawkins, shiver my timbers! Dropped in, like, eh? Well, come, I take that friendly.”
And thereupon he sat down across the brandy cask and began to fill a pipe.
“Give me a loan of the link, Dick,” said he; and then, when he had a good light, “That’ll do, lad,” he added; “stick the glim in the wood heap; and you, gentlemen, bring yourselves to! You needn’t stand up for Mr. Hawkins; he’ll excuse you, you may lay to that. And so, Jim”—stopping the tobacco—”here you were, and quite a pleasant surprise for poor old John. I see you were smart when first I set my eyes on you, but this here gets away from me clean, it do.”
To all this, as may be well supposed, I made no answer. They had set me with my back against the wall, and I stood there, looking Silver in the face, pluckily enough, I hope, to all outward appearance, but with black despair in my heart.
Silver took a whiff or two of his pipe with great composure and then ran on again.
“Now, you see, Jim, so be as you are here,” says he, “I’ll give you a piece of my mind. I’ve always liked you, I have, for a lad of spirit, and the picter of my own self when I was young and handsome. I always wanted you to jine and take your share, and die a gentleman, and now, my cock, you’ve got to. Cap’n Smollett’s a fine seaman, as I’ll own up to any day, but stiff on discipline. ‘Dooty is dooty,’ says he, and right he is. Just you keep clear of the cap’n. The doctor himself is gone dead again you—’ungrateful scamp’ was what he said; and the short and the long of the whole story is about here: you can’t go back to your own lot, for they won’t have you; and without you start a third ship’s company all by yourself, which might be lonely, you’ll have to jine with Cap’n Silver.”
So far so good. My friends, then, were still alive, and though I partly believed the truth of Silver’s statement, that the cabin party were incensed at me for my desertion, I was more relieved than distressed by what I heard.
“I don’t say nothing as to your being in our hands,” continued Silver, “though there you are, and you may lay to it. I’m all for argyment; I never seen good come out o’ threatening. If you like the service, well, you’ll jine; and if you don’t, Jim, why, you’re free to answer no—free and welcome, shipmate; and if fairer can be said by mortal seaman, shiver my sides!”
“Am I to answer, then?” I asked with a very tremulous voice. Through all this sneering talk, I was made to feel the threat of death that overhung me, and my cheeks burned and my heart beat painfully in my breast.
“Lad,” said Silver, “no one’s a-pressing of you. Take your bearings. None of us won’t hurry you, mate; time goes so pleasant in your company, you see.”
“Well,” says I, growing a bit bolder, “if I’m to choose, I declare I have a right to know what’s what, and why you’re here, and where my friends are.”
“Wot’s wot?” repeated one of the buccaneers in a deep growl. “Ah, he’d be a lucky one as knowed that!”
“You’ll perhaps batten down your hatches till you’re spoke to, my friend,” cried Silver truculently to this speaker. And then, in his first gracious tones, he replied to me, “Yesterday morning, Mr. Hawkins,” said he, “in the dog-watch, down came Doctor Livesey with a flag of truce. Says he, ‘Cap’n Silver, you’re sold out. Ship’s gone.’ Well, maybe we’d been taking a glass, and a song to help it round. I won’t say no. Leastways, none of us had looked out. We looked out, and by thunder, the old ship was gone! I never seen a pack o’ fools look fishier; and you may lay to that, if I tells you that looked the fishiest. ‘Well,’ says the doctor, ‘let’s bargain.’ We bargained, him and I, and here we are: stores, brandy, block house, the firewood you was thoughtful enough to cut, and in a manner of speaking, the whole blessed boat, from cross-trees to kelson. As for them, they’ve tramped; I don’t know where’s they are.”
He drew again quietly at his pipe.
“And lest you should take it into that head of yours,” he went on, “that you was included in the treaty, here’s the last word that was said: ‘How many are you,’ says I, ‘to leave?’ ‘Four,’ says he; ‘four, and one of us wounded. As for that boy, I don’t know where he is, confound him,’ says he, ‘nor I don’t much care. We’re about sick of him.’ These was his words.
“Is that all?” I asked.
“Well, it’s all that you’re to hear, my son,” returned Silver.
“And now I am to choose?”
“And now you are to choose, and you may lay to that,” said Silver.
“Well,” said I, “I am not such a fool but I know pretty well what I have to look for. Let the worst come to the worst, it’s little I care. I’ve seen too many die since I fell in with you. But there’s a thing or two I have to tell you,” I said, and by this time I was quite excited; “and the first is this: here you are, in a bad way—ship lost, treasure lost, men lost, your whole business gone to wreck; and if you want to know who did it—it was I! I was in the apple barrel the night we sighted land, and I heard you, John, and you, Dick Johnson, and Hands, who is now at the bottom of the sea, and told every word you said before the hour was out. And as for the schooner, it was I who cut her cable, and it was I that killed the men you had aboard of her, and it was I who brought her where you’ll never see her more, not one of you. The laugh’s on my side; I’ve had the top of this business from the first; I no more fear you than I fear a fly. Kill me, if you please, or spare me. But one thing I’ll say, and no more; if you spare me, bygones are bygones, and when you fellows are in court for piracy, I’ll save you all I can. It is for you to choose. Kill another and do yourselves no good, or spare me and keep a witness to save you from the gallows.”
I stopped, for, I tell you, I was out of breath, and to my wonder, not a man of them moved, but all sat staring at me like as many sheep. And while they were still staring, I broke out again, “And now, Mr. Silver,” I said, “I believe you’re the best man here, and if things go to the worst, I’ll take it kind of you to let the doctor know the way I took it.”
“I’ll bear it in mind,” said Silver with an accent so curious that I could not, for the life of me, decide whether he were laughing at my request or had been favourably affected by my courage.
“I’ll put one to that,” cried the old mahogany-faced seaman—Morgan by name—whom I had seen in Long John’s public-house upon the quays of Bristol. “It was him that knowed Black Dog.”
“Well, and see here,” added the sea-cook. “I’ll put another again to that, by thunder! For it was this same boy that faked the chart from Billy Bones. First and last, we’ve split upon Jim Hawkins!”
“Then here goes!” said Morgan with an oath.
And he sprang up, drawing his knife as if he had been twenty.
“Avast, there!” cried Silver. “Who are you, Tom Morgan? Maybe you thought you was cap’n here, perhaps. By the powers, but I’ll teach you better! Cross me, and you’ll go where many a good man’s gone before you, first and last, these thirty year back—some to the yard-arm, shiver my timbers, and some by the board, and all to feed the fishes. There’s never a man looked me between the eyes and seen a good day a’terwards, Tom Morgan, you may lay to that.”
Morgan paused, but a hoarse murmur rose from the others.
“Tom’s right,” said one.
“I stood hazing long enough from one,” added another. “I’ll be hanged if I’ll be hazed by you, John Silver.”
“Did any of you gentlemen want to have it out with me?” roared Silver, bending far forward from his position on the keg, with his pipe still glowing in his right hand. “Put a name on what you’re at; you ain’t dumb, I reckon. Him that wants shall get it. Have I lived this many years, and a son of a rum puncheon cock his hat athwart my hawse at the latter end of it? You know the way; you’re all gentlemen o’ fortune, by your account. Well, I’m ready. Take a cutlass, him that dares, and I’ll see the colour of his inside, crutch and all, before that pipe’s empty.”
Not a man stirred; not a man answered.
“That’s your sort, is it?” he added, returning his pipe to his mouth. “Well, you’re a gay lot to look at, anyway. Not much worth to fight, you ain’t. P’r’aps you can understand King George’s English. I’m cap’n here by ‘lection. I’m cap’n here because I’m the best man by a long sea-mile. You won’t fight, as gentlemen o’ fortune should; then, by thunder, you’ll obey, and you may lay to it! I like that boy, now; I never seen a better boy than that. He’s more a man than any pair of rats of you in this here house, and what I say is this: let me see him that’ll lay a hand on him—that’s what I say, and you may lay to it.”
There was a long pause after this. I stood straight up against the wall, my heart still going like a sledge-hammer, but with a ray of hope now shining in my bosom. Silver leant back against the wall, his arms crossed, his pipe in the corner of his mouth, as calm as though he had been in church; yet his eye kept wandering furtively, and he kept the tail of it on his unruly followers. They, on their part, drew gradually together towards the far end of the block house, and the low hiss of their whispering sounded in my ear continuously, like a stream. One after another, they would look up, and the red light of the torch would fall for a second on their nervous faces; but it was not towards me, it was towards Silver that they turned their eyes.
“You seem to have a lot to say,” remarked Silver, spitting far into the air. “Pipe up and let me hear it, or lay to.”
“Ax your pardon, sir,” returned one of the men; “you’re pretty free with some of the rules; maybe you’ll kindly keep an eye upon the rest. This crew’s dissatisfied; this crew don’t vally bullying a marlin-spike; this crew has its rights like other crews, I’ll make so free as that; and by your own rules, I take it we can talk together. I ax your pardon, sir, acknowledging you for to be captaing at this present; but I claim my right, and steps outside for a council.”
And with an elaborate sea-salute, this fellow, a long, ill-looking, yellow-eyed man of five and thirty, stepped coolly towards the door and disappeared out of the house. One after another the rest followed his example, each making a salute as he passed, each adding some apology. “According to rules,” said one. “Forecastle council,” said Morgan. And so with one remark or another all marched out and left Silver and me alone with the torch.
The sea-cook instantly removed his pipe.
“Now, look you here, Jim Hawkins,” he said in a steady whisper that was no more than audible, “you’re within half a plank of death, and what’s a long sight worse, of torture. They’re going to throw me off. But, you mark, I stand by you through thick and thin. I didn’t mean to; no, not till you spoke up. I was about desperate to lose that much blunt, and be hanged into the bargain. But I see you was the right sort. I says to myself, you stand by Hawkins, John, and Hawkins’ll stand by you. You’re his last card, and by the living thunder, John, he’s yours! Back to back, says I. You save your witness, and he’ll save your neck!”
I began dimly to understand.
“You mean all’s lost?” I asked.
“Aye, by gum, I do!” he answered. “Ship gone, neck gone—that’s the size of it. Once I looked into that bay, Jim Hawkins, and seen no schooner—well, I’m tough, but I gave out. As for that lot and their council, mark me, they’re outright fools and cowards. I’ll save your life—if so be as I can—from them. But, see here, Jim—tit for tat—you save Long John from swinging.”
I was bewildered; it seemed a thing so hopeless he was asking—he, the old buccaneer, the ringleader throughout.
“What I can do, that I’ll do,” I said.
“It’s a bargain!” cried Long John. “You speak up plucky, and by thunder, I’ve a chance!”
He hobbled to the torch, where it stood propped among the firewood, and took a fresh light to his pipe.
“Understand me, Jim,” he said, returning. “I’ve a head on my shoulders, I have. I’m on squire’s side now. I know you’ve got that ship safe somewheres. How you done it, I don’t know, but safe it is. I guess Hands and O’Brien turned soft. I never much believed in neither of them. Now you mark me. I ask no questions, nor I won’t let others. I know when a game’s up, I do; and I know a lad that’s staunch. Ah, you that’s young—you and me might have done a power of good together!”
He drew some cognac from the cask into a tin cannikin.
“Will you taste, messmate?” he asked; and when I had refused: “Well, I’ll take a drain myself, Jim,” said he. “I need a caulker, for there’s trouble on hand. And talking o’ trouble, why did that doctor give me the chart, Jim?”
My face expressed a wonder so unaffected that he saw the needlessness of further questions.
“Ah, well, he did, though,” said he. “And there’s something under that, no doubt—something, surely, under that, Jim—bad or good.”
And he took another swallow of the brandy, shaking his great fair head like a man who looks forward to the worst.