Treasure island, p.22
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       Treasure Island, p.22

           Robert Louis Stevenson
 
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His courage had come back as he spoke, and some of the colour to his face along with it. Already the others had begun to lend an ear to this encouragement, and were coming a little to themselves, when the same voice broke out again—not this time singing, but in a faint distant hail, that echoed yet fainter among the clefts of the Spy-glass.

  “Darby M’Graw,” it wailed—for that is the word that best describes the sound—”Darby M’Graw! Darby M’Graw!” again and again and again; and then rising a little higher, and with an oath that I leave out, “Fetch aft the rum, Darby!”

  The buccaneers remained rooted to the ground, their eyes starting from their heads. Long after the voice had died away they still stared in silence, dreadfully, before them.

  “That fixes it!” gasped one. “Let’s go!”

  “They was his last words,” moaned Morgan, “his last words above board.”

  Dick had his Bible out, and was praying volubly. He had been well brought up, had Dick, before he came to sea and fell among bad companions.

  Still, Silver was unconquered. I could hear his teeth rattle in his head; but he had not yet surrendered.

  “Nobody in this here island ever heard of Darby,” he muttered; “not one but us that’s here.” And then, making a great effort, “Shipmates,” he cried, “I’m here to get that stuff, and I’ll not be beat by man nor devil. I never was feared of Flint in his life, and, by the powers, I’ll face him dead. There’s seven hundred thousand pound not a quarter of a mile from here. When did ever a gentleman o’ fortune show his stern to that much dollars, for a boosy old seaman with a blue mug—and him dead, too?”

  But there was no sign of re-awakening courage in his followers; rather, indeed, of growing terror at the irreverence of his words.

  “Belay there, John!” said Merry. “Don’t you cross a sperrit.”

  And the rest were all too terrified to reply. They would have run away severally had they dared; but fear kept them together, and kept them close by John, as if his daring helped them. He, on his part, had pretty well fought his weakness down.

  “Sperrit? Well, maybe,” he said. “But there’s one thing not clear to me. There was an echo. Now, no man ever seen a sperrit with a shadow; well, then, what’s he doing with an echo to him, I should like to know? That ain’t in natur’, surely?”

  This argument seemed weak enough to me. But you can never tell what will affect the superstitious, and, to my wonder, George Merry was greatly relieved.

  “Well, that’s so,” he said. “You’ve a head upon your shoulders, John, and no mistake. ’Bout ship, mates! This here crew is on a wrong tack, I do believe. And come to think on it, it was like Flint’s voice, I grant you, but not just so clear-away like it, after all. It was liker somebody else’s voice now—it was liker——”

  “By the powers, Ben Gunn!” roared Silver.

  “Ay, and so it were,” cried Morgan, springing on his knees. “Ben Gunn it were!”

  “It don’t make much odds, do it, now?” asked Dick. “Ben Gunn’s not here in the body, any more’n Flint.”

  But the older hands greeted this remark with scorn.

  “Why, nobody minds Ben Gunn,” cried Merry; “dead or alive, nobody minds him.”

  It was extraordinary how their spirits had returned, and how the natural colour had revived in their faces. Soon they were chatting together, with intervals of listening; and not long after, hearing no further sound, they shouldered the tools and set forth again, Merry walking first with Silver’s compass to keep them on the right line with Skeleton Island. He had said the truth: dead or alive, nobody minded Ben Gunn.

  Dick alone still held his Bible, and looked around him as he went, with fearful glances; but he found no sympathy, and Silver even joked him on his precautions.

  “I told you,” said he—”I told you, you had sp’iled your Bible. If it ain’t no good to swear by, what do you suppose a sperrit would give for it? Not that!” and he snapped his big fingers, halting a moment on his crutch.

  But Dick was not to be comforted; indeed, it was soon plain to me that the lad was falling sick; hastened by heat, exhaustion, and the shock of his alarm, the fever, predicted by Doctor Livesey, was evidently growing swiftly higher.

  It was fine open walking here, upon the summit; our way lay a little down-hill, for, as I have said, the plateau tilted towards the west. The pines, great and small, grew wide apart; and even between the clumps of nutmeg and azalea, wide open spaces baked in the hot sunshine. Striking, as we did, pretty near north-west across the island, we drew, on the one hand, ever nearer under the shoulders of the Spy-glass, and on the other, looked ever wider over that western bay where I had once tossed and trembled in the coracle.

  The first of the tail trees was reached, and by the bearing, proved the wrong one. So with the second. The third rose nearly two hundred feet into the air above a clump of underwood; a giant of a vegetable, with a red column as big as a cottage, and a wide shadow around in which a company could have manœuvred. It was conspicuous far to sea both on the east and west, and might have been entered as a sailing mark upon the chart.

  But it was not its size that now impressed my companions; it was the knowledge that seven hundred thousand pounds in gold lay somewhere buried below its spreading shadow. The thought of the money, as they drew nearer, swallowed up their previous terrors. Their eyes burned in their heads; their feet grew speedier and lighter; their whole soul was bound up in that fortune, that whole lifetime of extravagance and pleasure, that lay waiting there for each of them.

  Silver hobbled, grunting, on his crutch; his nostrils stood out and quivered; he cursed like a madman when the flies settled on his hot and shiny countenance; he plucked furiously at the line that held me to him, and, from time to time, turned his eyes upon me with a deadly look. Certainly he took no pains to hide his thoughts; and certainly I read them like print. In the immediate nearness of the gold, all else had been forgotten; his promise and the doctor’s warning were both things of the past; and I could not doubt that he hoped to seize upon the treasure, find and board the Hispaniola under cover of night, cut every honest throat about that island, and sail away as he had at first intended, laden with crimes and riches.

  Shaken as I was with these alarms, it was hard for me to keep up with the rapid pace of the treasure-hunters. Now and again I stumbled; and it was then that Silver plucked so roughly at the rope and launched at me his murderous glances. Dick, who had dropped behind us, and now brought up the rear, was babbling to himself both prayers and curses, as his fever kept rising. This also added to my wretchedness, and, to crown all, I was haunted by the thought of the tragedy that had once been acted on that plateau, when that ungodly buccaneer with the blue face—he who died at Savannah, singing and shouting for drink—had there, with his own hand, cut down his six accomplices. This grove, that was now so peaceful, must then have rung with cries, I thought; and even with the thought I could believe I heard it ringing still.

  We were now at the margin of the thicket.

  “Huzza, mates, all together!” shouted Merry; and the foremost broke into a run.

  And suddenly, not ten yards further, we beheld them stop. A low cry arose. Silver doubled his pace, digging away with the foot of his crutch like one possessed; and next moment he and I had come also to a dead halt.

  Before us was a great excavation, not very recent, for the sides had fallen in and grass had sprouted on the bottom. In this were the shaft of a pick broken in two and the boards of several packing-cases strewn around. On one of these boards I saw, branded with a hot iron, the name Walrus—the name of Flint’s ship.

  All was clear to probation. The cache had been found and rifled: the seven hundred thousand pounds were gone!

  CHAPTER XXXIII

  The Fall of a Chieftain

  There never was such an overturn in this world. Each of these six men was as though he had been struck. But with Silver the blow passed almost instantly. Every thought of his soul had been set full-stretch,
like a racer, on that money; well, he was brought up in a single second, dead; and he kept his head, found his temper, and changed his plan before the others had had time to realize the disappointment.

  “Jim,” he whispered, “take that, and stand by for trouble.”

  And he passed me a double-barrelled pistol.

  At the same time he began quietly moving northward, and in a few steps had put the hollow between us two and the other five. Then he looked at me and nodded, as much as to say, “Here is a narrow corner,” as, indeed, I thought it was. His looks were now quite friendly; and I was so revolted at these constant changes, that I could not forbear whispering, “So you’ve changed sides again.”

  There was no time left for him to answer in. The buccaneers, with oaths and cries, began to leap, one after another, into the pit, and to dig with their fingers, throwing the boards aside as they did so. Morgan found a piece of gold. He held it up with a perfect spout of oaths. It was a two-guinea piece, and it went from hand to hand among them for a quarter of a minute.

  “Two guineas!” roared Merry, shaking it at Silver. “That’s your seven hundred thousand pounds, is it? You’re the man for bargains, ain’t you? You’re him that never bungled nothing, you wooden-headed lubber!”

  “Dig away, boys,” said Silver, with the coolest insolence; “you’ll find some pig-nuts and I shouldn’t wonder.”

  “Pig-nuts!” repeated Merry, in a scream. “Mates, do you hear that? I tell you, now, that man there knew it all along. Look in the face of him, and you’ll see it wrote there.”

  “Ah, Merry,” remarked Silver, “standing for cap’n again? You’re a pushing lad, to be sure.”

  But this time every one was entirely in Merry’s favour. They began to scramble out of the excavation, darting furious glances behind them. One thing I observed, which looked well for us: they all got out upon the opposite side from Silver.

  Well, there we stood, two on one side, five on the other, the pit between us, and nobody screwed up high enough to offer the first blow. Silver never moved; he watched them, very upright on his crutch, and looked as cool as ever I saw him. He was brave, and no mistake.

  At last, Merry seemed to think a speech might help matters.

  “Mates,” says he, “there’s two of them alone there; one’s the old cripple that brought us all here and blundered us down to this the other’s that cub that I mean to have the heart of. Now, mates——”

  He was raising his arm and his voice, and plainly meant to lead a charge. But just then—crack! crack! crack!—three musket-shots flashed out of the thicket. Merry tumbled head foremost into the excavation; the man with the bandage spun round like a teetotum, and fell all his length upon his side, where he lay dead, but still twitching; and the other three turned and ran for it with all their might.

  Before you could wink, Long John had fired two barrels of a pistol into the struggling Merry; and as the man rolled up his eyes at him in the last agony, “George,” said he, “I reckon I settled you.”

  At the same moment the doctor, Gray, and Ben Gunn joined us, with smoking muskets, from among the nutmeg trees.

  “Forward!” cried the doctor. “Double quick, my lads. We must head ’em off the boats.”

  And we set off at a great pace, sometimes plunging through the bushes to the chest.

  I tell you, but Silver was anxious to keep up with us. The work that man went through, leaping on his crutch till the muscles of his chest were fit to burst, was work no sound man ever equalled; and so thinks the doctor. As it was, he was already thirty yards behind us, and on the verge of strangling, when we reached the brow of the slope.

  “Doctor,” he hailed, “see there! no hurry!”

  Sure enough there was no hurry. In a more open part of the plateau, we could see the three survivors still running in the same direction as they had started, right for Mizzen-mast Hill. We were already between them and the boats; and so we four sat down to breathe, while Long John, mopping his face, came slowly up with us.

  “Thank ye kindly, doctor,” says he. “You came in in about the nick, I guess, for me and Hawkins. And so it’s you, Ben Gunn!” he added. “Well, you’re a nice one to be sure.”

  “I’m Ben Gunn, I am,” replied the maroon, wriggling like an eel in his embarrassment. “And,” he added, after a long pause, “how do, Mr. Silver? Pretty well, I thank ye, says you.”

  “Ben, Ben,” murmured Silver, “to think as you’ve done me!”

  The doctor sent back Gray for one of the pickaxes, deserted, in their flight, by the mutineers; and then as we proceeded leisurely down hill to where the boats were lying, related, in a few words, what had taken place. It was a story that profoundly interested Silver; and Ben Gunn, the half-idiot maroon, was the hero from beginning to end.

  Ben, in his long, lonely wanderings about the island, had found the skeleton—it was he that had rifled it; he had found the treasure; he had dug it up (it was the haft of his pickaxe that lay broken in the excavation); he had carried it on his back, in many weary journeys, from the foot of the tall pine to a cave he had on the two-pointed hill at the north-east angle of the island, and there it had lain stored in safety since two months before the arrival of the Hispaniola.

  When the doctor had wormed this secret from him, on the afternoon of the attack, and when, next morning, he saw the anchorage deserted, he had gone to Silver, given him the chart, which was now useless—given him the stores, for Ben Gunn’s cave was well supplied with goats’ meat salted by himself—given anything and everything to get a chance of moving in safety from the stockade to the two-pointed hill, there to be clear of malaria and keep a guard upon the money.

  “As for you, Jim,” he said, “it went against my heart, but I did what I thought best for those who had stood by their duty; and if you were not one of these, whose fault was it?”

  That morning, finding that I was to be involved in the horrid disappointment he had prepared for the mutineers, he had run all the way to the cave, and, leaving the squire to guard the captain, had taken Gray and the maroon, and started, making the diagonal across the island, to be at hand beside the pine. Soon, however, he saw that our party had the start of him; and Ben Gunn, being fleet of foot, had been despatched in front to do his best alone. Then it had occurred to him to work upon the superstitions of his former shipmates; and he was so far successful that Gray and the doctor had come up and were already ambushed before the arrival of the treasure-hunters.

  “Ah,” said Silver, “it were fortunate for me that I had Hawkins here. You would have let old John be cut to bits, and never given it a thought, doctor.”

  “Not a thought,” replied Doctor Livesey, cheerily.

  And by this time we had reached the gigs. The doctor, with a pickaxe, demolished one of them, and then we all got aboard the other, and set out to go round by sea for North Inlet.

  This was a run of eight or nine miles. Silver, though he was almost killed already with fatigue, was set to an oar, like the rest of us, and we were soon skimming swiftly over a smooth sea. Soon we passed out of the straits and doubled the south-east corner of the island, round which, four days ago, we had towed the Hispaniola.

  As we passed the two-pointed hill, we could see the black mouth of Ben Gunn’s cave, arid a figure standing by it, leaning on a musket. It was the squire; and we waved a handkerchief and gave him three cheers, in which the voice of Silver joined as heartily as any.

  Three miles farther, just inside the mouth of North Inlet, what should we meet but the Hispaniola, cruising by herself? The last flood had lifted her; and had there been much wind, or a strong tide current, as in the southern anchorage, we should never have found her more, or found her stranded beyond help. As it was, there was little amiss, beyond the wreck of the mainsail. Another anchor was got ready, and dropped in a fathom and a half of water. We all pulled round again to Rum Cove, the nearest point for Ben Gunn’s treasure-house; and then Gray, single-handed, returned with the gig to the Hispaniola, wh
ere he was to pass the night on guard.

  A gentle slope ran up from the beach to the entrance of the cave. At the top, the squire met us. To me he was cordial and kind, saying nothing of my escapade, either in the way of blame or praise. At Silver’s polite salute he somewhat flushed.

  “John Silver,” he said, “you’re a prodigious villain and impostor—a monstrous impostor, sir. I am told I am not to prosecute you. Well, then, I will not. But the dead men, sir, hang about your neck like millstones.”

  “Thank you kindly, sir,” replied Long John, again saluting.

  “I dare you to thank me!” cried the squire. “It is a gross dereliction of my duty. Stand back.”

  And thereupon we all entered the cave. It was a large, airy place, with a little spring and a pool of clear water, overhung with ferns. The floor was sand. Before a big fire lay Captain Smollett; and in a far corner, only duskily flickered over by the blaze, I beheld great heaps of coin and quadrilaterals built of bars of gold. That was Flint’s treasure that we had come so far to seek, and that had cost already the lives of seventeen men from the Hispaniola. How many it had cost in the amassing, what blood and sorrow, what good ships scuttled on the deep, what brave men walking the plank blindfold, what shot of cannon, what shame and lies and cruelty, perhaps no man alive could tell. Yet there were still three upon that island—Silver, and old Morgan, and Ben Gunn—who had each taken his share in these crimes, as each had hoped in vain to share in the reward.

  “Come in, Jim,” said the captain. “You’re a good boy in your line, Jim; but I don’t think you and me’ll go to sea again. You’re too much of the born favourite for me. Is that you, John Silver? What brings you here, man?”

  “Come back to my dooty, sir,” returned Silver.

  “Ah!” said the captain; and that was all he said.

  What a supper I had of it that night, with all my friends around me; and what a meal it was, with Ben Gunn’s salted goat, and some delicacies and a bottle of old wine from the Hispaniola. Never, I am sure, were people gayer or happier. And there was Silver, sitting back almost out of the firelight, but eating heartily, prompt to spring forward when anything was wanted, even joining quietly in our laughter—the same bland, polite, obsequious seaman of the voyage out.

 
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