THE council of buccaneers had lasted some time, when one of them re-entered the house, and with a repetition of the same salute, which had in my eyes an ironical air, begged for a moment’s loan of the torch. Silver briefly agreed, and this emissary retired again, leaving us together in the dark.
“There’s a breeze coming, Jim,” said Silver, who had by this time adopted quite a friendly and familiar tone.
I turned to the loophole nearest me and looked out. The embers of the great fire had so far burned themselves out and now glowed so low and duskily that I understood why these conspirators desired a torch. About half-way down the slope to the stockade, they were collected in a group; one held the light, another was on his knees in their midst, and I saw the blade of an open knife shine in his hand with varying colours in the moon and torchlight. The rest were all somewhat stooping, as though watching the manoeuvres of this last. I could just make out that he had a book as well as a knife in his hand, and was still wondering how anything so incongruous had come in their possession when the kneeling figure rose once more to his feet and the whole party began to move together towards the house.
“Here they come,” said I; and I returned to my former position, for it seemed beneath my dignity that they should find me watching them.
“Well, let ’em come, lad—let ’em come,” said Silver cheerily. “I’ve still a shot in my locker.”
The door opened, and the five men, standing huddled together just inside, pushed one of their number forward. In any other circumstances it would have been comical to see his slow advance, hesitating as he set down each foot, but holding his closed right hand in front of him.
“Step up, lad,” cried Silver. “I won’t eat you. Hand it over, lubber. I know the rules, I do; I won’t hurt a depytation.”
Thus encouraged, the buccaneer stepped forth more briskly, and having passed something to Silver, from hand to hand, slipped yet more smartly back again to his companions.
The sea-cook looked at what had been given him.
“The black spot! I thought so,” he observed. “Where might you have got the paper? Why, hillo! Look here, now; this ain’t lucky! You’ve gone and cut this out of a Bible. What fool’s cut a Bible?”
“Ah, there!” said Morgan. “There! Wot did I say? No good’ll come o’ that, I said.”
“Well, you’ve about fixed it now, among you,” continued Silver. “You’ll all swing now, I reckon. What soft-headed lubber had a Bible?”
“It was Dick,” said one.
“Dick, was it? Then Dick can get to prayers,” said Silver. “He’s seen his slice of luck, has Dick, and you may lay to that.”
But here the long man with the yellow eyes struck in.
“Belay that talk, John Silver,” he said. “This crew has tipped you the black spot in full council, as in dooty bound; just you turn it over, as in dooty bound, and see what’s wrote there. Then you can talk.”
“Thanky, George,” replied the sea-cook. “You always was brisk for business, and has the rules by heart, George, as I’m pleased to see. Well, what is it, anyway? Ah! ‘Deposed’—that’s it, is it? Very pretty wrote, to be sure; like print, I swear. Your hand o’ write, George? Why, you was gettin’ quite a leadin’ man in this here crew. You’ll be cap’n next, I shouldn’t wonder. Just oblige me with that torch again, will you? This pipe don’t draw.”
“Come, now,” said George, “you don’t fool this crew no more. You’re a funny man, by your account; but you’re over now, and you’ll maybe step down off that barrel and help vote.”
“I thought you said you knowed the rules,” returned Silver contemptuously. “Leastways, if you don’t, I do; and I wait here—and I’m still your cap’n, mind—till you outs with your grievances and I reply; in the meantime, your black spot ain’t worth a biscuit. After that, we’ll see.”
“Oh,” replied George, “you don’t be under no kind of apprehension; we’re all square, we are. First, you’ve made a hash of this cruise—you’ll be a bold man to say no to that. Second, you let the enemy out o’ this here trap for nothing. Why did they want out? I dunno, but it’s pretty plain they wanted it. Third, you wouldn’t let us go at them upon the march. Oh, we see through you, John Silver; you want to play booty, that’s what’s wrong with you. And then, fourth, there’s this here boy.”
“Is that all?” asked Silver quietly.
“Enough, too,” retorted George. “We’ll all swing and sun-dry for your bungling.”
“Well now, look here, I’ll answer these four p’ints; one after another I’ll answer ’em. I made a hash o’ this cruise, did I? Well now, you all know what I wanted, and you all know if that had been done that we’d ‘a been aboard the Hispaniola this night as ever was, every man of us alive, and fit, and full of good plum-duff, and the treasure in the hold of her, by thunder! Well, who crossed me? Who forced my hand, as was the lawful cap’n? Who tipped me the black spot the day we landed and began this dance? Ah, it’s a fine dance—I’m with you there—and looks mighty like a hornpipe in a rope’s end at Execution Dock by London town, it does. But who done it? Why, it was Anderson, and Hands, and you, George Merry! And you’re the last above board of that same meddling crew; and you have the Davy Jones’s insolence to up and stand for cap’n over me—you, that sank the lot of us! By the powers! But this tops the stiffest yarn to nothing.”
Silver paused, and I could see by the faces of George and his late comrades that these words had not been said in vain.
“That’s for number one,” cried the accused, wiping the sweat from his brow, for he had been talking with a vehemence that shook the house. “Why, I give you my word, I’m sick to speak to you. You’ve neither sense nor memory, and I leave it to fancy where your mothers was that let you come to sea. Sea! Gentlemen o’ fortune! I reckon tailors is your trade.”
“Go on, John,” said Morgan. “Speak up to the others.”
“Ah, the others!” returned John. “They’re a nice lot, ain’t they? You say this cruise is bungled. Ah! By gum, if you could understand how bad it’s bungled, you would see! We’re that near the gibbet that my neck’s stiff with thinking on it. You’ve seen ’em, maybe, hanged in chains, birds about ’em, seamen p’inting ’em out as they go down with the tide. ‘Who’s that?’ says one. ‘That! Why, that’s John Silver. I knowed him well,’ says another. And you can hear the chains a-jangle as you go about and reach for the other buoy. Now, that’s about where we are, every mother’s son of us, thanks to him, and Hands, and Anderson, and other ruination fools of you. And if you want to know about number four, and that boy, why, shiver my timbers, isn’t he a hostage? Are we a-going to waste a hostage? No, not us; he might be our last chance, and I shouldn’t wonder. Kill that boy? Not me, mates! And number three? Ah, well, there’s a deal to say to number three. Maybe you don’t count it nothing to have a real college doctor to see you every day—you, John, with your head broke—or you, George Merry, that had the ague shakes upon you not six hours agone, and has your eyes the colour of lemon peel to this same moment on the clock? And maybe, perhaps, you didn’t know there was a consort coming either? But there is, and not so long till then; and we’ll see who’ll be glad to have a hostage when it comes to that. And as for number two, and why I made a bargain—well, you came crawling on your knees to me to make it—on your knees you came, you was that downhearted—and you’d have starved too if I hadn’t—but that’s a trifle! You look there—that’s why!”
And he cast down upon the floor a paper that I instantly recognized—none other than the chart on yellow paper, with the three red crosses, that I had found in the oilcloth at the bottom of the captain’s chest. Why the doctor had given it to him was more than I could fancy.
But if it were inexplicable to me, the appearance of the chart was incredible to the surviving mutineers. They leaped upon it like cats upon a mouse. It went from hand to hand, one tearing it from another; and by the oaths and the cries and the childish laughter with which they accompanied their examination, you would have thought, not only they were fingering the very gold, but were at sea with it, besides, in safety.
“Yes,” said one, “that’s Flint, sure enough. J. F., and a score below, with a clove hitch to it; so he done ever.”
“Mighty pretty,” said George. “But how are we to get away with it, and us no ship.”
Silver suddenly sprang up, and supporting himself with a hand against the wall: “Now I give you warning, George,” he cried. “One more word of your sauce, and I’ll call you down and fight you. How? Why, how do I know? You had ought to tell me that—you and the rest, that lost me my schooner, with your interference, burn you! But not you, you can’t; you hain’t got the invention of a cockroach. But civil you can speak, and shall, George Merry, you may lay to that.”
“That’s fair enow,” said the old man Morgan.
“Fair! I reckon so,” said the sea-cook. “You lost the ship; I found the treasure. Who’s the better man at that? And now I resign, by thunder! Elect whom you please to be your cap’n now; I’m done with it.”
“Silver!” they cried. “Barbecue forever! Barbecue for cap’n!”
“So that’s the toon, is it?” cried the cook. “George, I reckon you’ll have to wait another turn, friend; and lucky for you as I’m not a revengeful man. But that was never my way. And now, shipmates, this black spot? ‘Tain’t much good now, is it? Dick’s crossed his luck and spoiled his Bible, and that’s about all.”
“It’ll do to kiss the book on still, won’t it?” growled Dick, who was evidently uneasy at the curse he had brought upon himself.
“A Bible with a bit cut out!” returned Silver derisively. “Not it. It don’t bind no more’n a ballad-book.”
“Don’t it, though?” cried Dick with a sort of joy. “Well, I reckon that’s worth having too.”
“Here, Jim—here’s a cur’osity for you,” said Silver, and he tossed me the paper.
It was around about the size of a crown piece. One side was blank, for it had been the last leaf; the other contained a verse or two of Revelation—these words among the rest, which struck sharply home upon my mind: “Without are dogs and murderers.” The printed side had been blackened with wood ash, which already began to come off and soil my fingers; on the blank side had been written with the same material the one word “Depposed.” I have that curiosity beside me at this moment, but not a trace of writing now remains beyond a single scratch, such as a man might make with his thumb-nail.
That was the end of the night’s business. Soon after, with a drink all round, we lay down to sleep, and the outside of Silver’s vengeance was to put George Merry up for sentinel and threaten him with death if he should prove unfaithful.
It was long ere I could close an eye, and heaven knows I had matter enough for thought in the man whom I had slain that afternoon, in my own most perilous position, and above all, in the remarkable game that I saw Silver now engaged upon—keeping the mutineers together with one hand and grasping with the other after every means, possible and impossible, to make his peace and save his miserable life. He himself slept peacefully and snored aloud, yet my heart was sore for him, wicked as he was, to think on the dark perils that environed and the shameful gibbet that awaited him.