It was in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and forty- four, that I, Gill Davis to command, His Mark, having then the honour to be a private in the Royal Marines, stood a-leaning over the bulwarks of the armed sloop Christopher Columbus, in the South American waters off the Mosquito shore.
My lady remarks to me, before I go any further, that there is no such christian-name as Gill, and that her confident opinion is, that the name given to me in the baptism wherein I was made, &c., was Gilbert. She is certain to be right, but I never heard of it. I was a foundling child, picked up somewhere or another, and I always understood my christian-name to be Gill. It is true that I was called Gills when employed at Snorridge Bottom betwixt Chatham and Maidstone to frighten birds; but that had nothing to do with the Baptism wherein I was made, &c., and wherein a number of things were promised for me by somebody, who let me alone ever afterwards as to performing any of them, and who, I consider, must have been the Beadle. Such name of Gills was entirely owing to my cheeks, or gills, which at that time of my life were of a raspy description.
My lady stops me again, before I go any further, by laughing exactly in her old way and waving the feather of her pen at me. That action on her part, calls to my mind as I look at her hand with the rings on it — Well! I won’t! To be sure it will come in, in its own place. But it’s always strange to me, noticing the quiet hand, and noticing it (as I have done, you know, so many times) a-fondling children and grandchildren asleep, to think that when blood and honour were up — there! I won’t! not at present! — Scratch it out.
She won’t scratch it out, and quite honourable; because we have made an understanding that everything is to be taken down, and that nothing that is once taken down shall be scratched out. I have the great misfortune not to be able to read and write, and I am speaking my true and faithful account of those Adventures, and my lady is writing it, word for word.
I say, there I was, a-leaning over the bulwarks of the sloop Christopher Columbus in the South American waters off the Mosquito shore: a subject of his Gracious Majesty King George of England, and a private in the Royal Marines.
In those climates, you don’t want to do much. I was doing nothing. I was thinking of the shepherd (my father, I wonder?) on the hillsides by Snorridge Bottom, with a long staff, and with a rough white coat in all weathers all the year round, who used to let me lie in a corner of his hut by night, and who used to let me go about with him and his sheep by day when I could get nothing else to do, and who used to give me so little of his victuals and so much of his staff, that I ran away from him — which was what he wanted all along, I expect — to be knocked about the world in preference to Snorridge Bottom. I had been knocked about the world for nine-and-twenty years in all, when I stood looking along those bright blue South American Waters. Looking after the shepherd, I may say. Watching him in a half-waking dream, with my eyes half-shut, as he, and his flock of sheep, and his two dogs, seemed to move away from the ship’s side, far away over the blue water, and go right down into the sky.
“It’s rising out of the water, steady,” a voice said close to me. I had been thinking on so, that it like woke me with a start, though it was no stranger voice than the voice of Harry Charker, my own comrade.
“What’s rising out of the water, steady?” I asked my comrade.
“What?” says he. “The Island.”
“O! The Island!” says I, turning my eyes towards it. “True. I forgot the Island.”
“Forgot the port you’re going to? That’s odd, ain’t it?”
“It is odd,” says I.
“And odd,” he said, slowly considering with himself, “ain’t even. Is it, Gill?”
He had always a remark just like that to make, and seldom another. As soon as he had brought a thing round to what it was not, he was satisfied. He was one of the best of men, and, in a certain sort of a way, one with the least to say for himself. I qualify it, because, besides being able to read and write like a Quarter-master, he had always one most excellent idea in his mind. That was, Duty. Upon my soul, I don’t believe, though I admire learning beyond everything, that he could have got a better idea out of all the books in the world, if he had learnt them every word, and been the cleverest of scholars.
My comrade and I had been quartered in Jamaica, and from there we had been drafted off to the British settlement of Belize, lying away West and North of the Mosquito coast. At Belize there had been great alarm of one cruel gang of pirates (there were always more pirates than enough in those Caribbean Seas), and as they got the better of our English cruisers by running into out-of-the-way creeks and shallows, and taking the land when they were hotly pressed, the governor of Belize had received orders from home to keep a sharp look-out for them along shore. Now, there was an armed sloop came once a-year from Port Royal, Jamaica, to the Island, laden with all manner of necessaries, to eat, and to drink, and to wear, and to use in various ways; and it was aboard of that sloop which had touched at Belize, that I was a-standing, leaning over the bulwarks.
The Island was occupied by a very small English colony. It had been given the name of Silver-Store. The reason of its being so called, was, that the English colony owned and worked a silver-mine over on the mainland, in Honduras, and used this Island as a safe and convenient place to store their silver in, until it was annually fetched away by the sloop. It was brought down from the mine to the coast on the backs of mules, attended by friendly Indians and guarded by white men; from thence it was conveyed over to Silver- Store, when the weather was fair, in the canoes of that country; from Silver-Store, it was carried to Jamaica by the armed sloop once a-year, as I have already mentioned; from Jamaica, it went, of course, all over the world.
How I came to be aboard the armed sloop, is easily told. Four-and- twenty marines under command of a lieutenant — that officer’s name was Linderwood — had been told off at Belize, to proceed to Silver- Store, in aid of boats and seamen stationed there for the chase of the Pirates. The Island was considered a good post of observation against the pirates, both by land and sea; neither the pirate ship nor yet her boats had been seen by any of us, but they had been so much heard of, that the reinforcement was sent. Of that party, I was one. It included a corporal and a sergeant. Charker was corporal, and the sergeant’s name was Drooce. He was the most tyrannical non-commissioned officer in His Majesty’s service.
The night came on, soon after I had had the foregoing words with Charker. All the wonderful bright colours went out of the sea and sky in a few minutes, and all the stars in the Heavens seemed to shine out together, and to look down at themselves in the sea, over one another’s shoulders, millions deep. Next morning, we cast anchor off the Island. There was a snug harbour within a little reef; there was a sandy beach; there were cocoa-nut trees with high straight stems, quite bare, and foliage at the top like plumes of magnificent green feathers; there were all the objects that are usually seen in those parts, and I am not going to describe them, having something else to tell about.
Great rejoicings, to be sure, were made on our arrival. All the flags in the place were hoisted, all the guns in the place were fired, and all the people in the place came down to look at us. One of those Sambo fellows — they call those natives Sambos, when they are half-negro and half-Indian — had come off outside the reef, to pilot us in, and remained on board after we had let go our anchor. He was called Christian George King, and was fonder of all hands than anybody else was. Now, I confess, for myself, that on that first day, if I had been captain of the Christopher Columbus, instead of private in the Royal Marines, I should have kicked Christian George King — who was no more a Christian than he was a King or a George — over the side, without exactly knowing why, except that it was the right thing to do.
But, I must likewise confess, that I was not in a particularly pleasant humour, when I stood under arms that morning, aboard the Christopher Columbus in the harbour of the Island of Silver-Store. I had had a hard life, and the life of the English on the Island seemed too easy and too gay to please me. “Here you are,” I thought to myself, “good scholars and good livers; able to read what you like, able to write what you like, able to eat and drink what you like, and spend what you like, and do what you like; and much you care for a poor, ignorant Private in the Royal Marines! Yet it’s hard, too, I think, that you should have all the half-pence, and I all the kicks; you all the smooth, and I all the rough; you all the oil, and I all the vinegar.” It was as envious a thing to think as might be, let alone its being nonsensical; but, I thought it. I took it so much amiss, that, when a very beautiful young English lady came aboard, I grunted to myself, “Ah! you have got a lover, I’ll be bound!” As if there was any new offence to me in that, if she had!
She was sister to the captain of our sloop, who had been in a poor way for some time, and who was so ill then that he was obliged to be carried ashore. She was the child of a military officer, and had come out there with her sister, who was married to one of the owners of the silver-mine, and who had three children with her. It was easy to see that she was the light and spirit of the Island. After I had got a good look at her, I grunted to myself again, in an even worse state of mind than before, “I’ll be damned, if I don’t hate him, whoever he is!”
My officer, Lieutenant Linderwood, was as ill as the captain of the sloop, and was carried ashore, too. They were both young men of about my age, who had been delicate in the West India climate. I even took that in bad part. I thought I was much fitter for the work than they were, and that if all of us had our deserts, I should be both of them rolled into one. (It may be imagined what sort of an officer of marines I should have made, without the power of reading a written order. And as to any knowledge how to command the sloop — Lord! I should have sunk her in a quarter of an hour!)
However, such were my reflections; and when we men were ashore and dismissed, I strolled about the place along with Charker, making my observations in a similar spirit.
It was a pretty place: in all its arrangements partly South American and partly English, and very agreeable to look at on that account, being like a bit of home that had got chipped off and had floated away to that spot, accommodating itself to circumstances as it drifted along. The huts of the Sambos, to the number of five- and-twenty, perhaps, were down by the beach to the left of the anchorage. On the right was a sort of barrack, with a South American Flag and the Union Jack, flying from the same staff, where the little English colony could all come together, if they saw occasion. It was a walled square of building, with a sort of pleasure-ground inside, and inside that again a sunken block like a powder magazine, with a little square trench round it, and steps down to the door. Charker and I were looking in at the gate, which was not guarded; and I had said to Charker, in reference to the bit like a powder magazine, “That’s where they keep the silver you see;” and Charker had said to me, after thinking it over, “And silver ain’t gold. Is it, Gill?” when the beautiful young English lady I had been so bilious about, looked out of a door, or a window — at all events looked out, from under a bright awning. She no sooner saw us two in uniform, than she came out so quickly that she was still putting on her broad Mexican hat of plaited straw when we saluted.
“Would you like to come in,” she said, “and see the place? It is rather a curious place.”
We thanked the young lady, and said we didn’t wish to be troublesome; but, she said it could be no trouble to an English soldier’s daughter, to show English soldiers how their countrymen and country-women fared, so far away from England; and consequently we saluted again, and went in. Then, as we stood in the shade, she showed us (being as affable as beautiful), how the different families lived in their separate houses, and how there was a general house for stores, and a general reading-room, and a general room for music and dancing, and a room for Church; and how there were other houses on the rising ground called the Signal Hill, where they lived in the hotter weather.
“Your officer has been carried up there,” she said, “and my brother, too, for the better air. At present, our few residents are dispersed over both spots: deducting, that is to say, such of our number as are always going to, or coming from, or staying at, the Mine.”
(“He is among one of those parties,” I thought, “and I wish somebody would knock his head off.”)
“Some of our married ladies live here,” she said, “during at least half the year, as lonely as widows, with their children.”
“Many children here, ma’am?”
“Seventeen. There are thirteen married ladies, and there are eight like me.”
There were not eight like her — there was not one like her — in the world. She meant single.
“Which, with about thirty Englishmen of various degrees,” said the young lady, “form the little colony now on the Island. I don’t count the sailors, for they don’t belong to us. Nor the soldiers,” she gave us a gracious smile when she spoke of the soldiers, “for the same reason.”
“Nor the Sambos, ma’am,” said I.
“Under your favour, and with your leave, ma’am,” said I, “are they trustworthy?”
“Perfectly! We are all very kind to them, and they are very grateful to us.”
“Indeed, ma’am? Now — Christian George King? —”
“Very much attached to us all. Would die for us.”
She was, as in my uneducated way I have observed, very beautiful women almost always to be, so composed, that her composure gave great weight to what she said, and I believed it.
Then, she pointed out to us the building like a powder magazine, and explained to us in what manner the silver was brought from the mine, and was brought over from the mainland, and was stored here. The Christopher Columbus would have a rich lading, she said, for there had been a great yield that year, a much richer yield than usual, and there was a chest of jewels besides the silver.
When we had looked about us, and were getting sheepish, through fearing we were troublesome, she turned us over to a young woman, English born but West India bred, who served her as her maid. This young woman was the widow of a non-commissioned officer in a regiment of the line. She had got married and widowed at St. Vincent, with only a few months between the two events. She was a little saucy woman, with a bright pair of eyes, rather a neat little foot and figure, and rather a neat little turned-up nose. The sort of young woman, I considered at the time, who appeared to invite you to give her a kiss, and who would have slapped your face if you accepted the invitation.
I couldn’t make out her name at first; for, when she gave it in answer to my inquiry, it sounded like Beltot, which didn’t sound right. But, when we became better acquainted — which was while Charker and I were drinking sugar-cane sangaree, which she made in a most excellent manner — I found that her Christian name was Isabella, which they shortened into Bell, and that the name of the deceased non-commissioned officer was Tott. Being the kind of neat little woman it was natural to make a toy of — I never saw a woman so like a toy in my life — she had got the plaything name of Belltott. In short, she had no other name on the island. Even Mr. Commissioner Pordage (and he was a grave one!) formally addressed her as Mrs. Belltott, but, I shall come to Mr. Commissioner Pordage presently.
The name of the captain of the sloop was Captain Maryon, and therefore it was no news to hear from Mrs. Belltott, that his sister, the beautiful unmarried young English lady, was Miss Maryon. The novelty was, that her christian-name was Marion too. Marion Maryon. Many a time I have run off those two names in my thoughts, like a bit of verse. Oh many, and many, and many a time!
We saw out all the drink that was produced, like good men and true, and then took our leaves, and went down to the beach. The weather was beautiful; the wind steady, low, and gentle; the island, a picture; the sea, a picture; the sky, a picture. In that country there are two rainy seasons in the year. One sets in at about our English Midsummer; the other, about a fortnight after our English Michaelmas. It was the beginning of August at that time; the first of these rainy seasons was well over; and everything was in its most beautiful growth, and had its loveliest look upon it.
“They enjoy themselves here,” I says to Charker, turning surly again. “This is better than private-soldiering.”
We had come down to the beach, to be friendly with the boat’s-crew who were camped and hutted there; and we were approaching towards their quarters over the sand, when Christian George King comes up from the landing-place at a wolf’s-trot, crying, “Yup, So-Jeer!”— which was that Sambo Pilot’s barbarous way of saying, Hallo, Soldier! I have stated myself to be a man of no learning, and, if I entertain prejudices, I hope allowance may be made. I will now confess to one. It may be a right one or it may be a wrong one; but, I never did like Natives, except in the form of oysters.
So, when Christian George King, who was individually unpleasant to me besides, comes a trotting along the sand, clucking, “Yup, So- Jeer!” I had a thundering good mind to let fly at him with my right. I certainly should have done it, but that it would have exposed me to reprimand.
“Yup, So-Jeer!” says he. “Bad job.”
“What do you mean?” says I.
“Yup, So-Jeer!” says he, “Ship Leakee.”
“Ship leaky?” says I.
“Iss,” says he, with a nod that looked as if it was jerked out of him by a most violent hiccup — which is the way with those savages.
I cast my eyes at Charker, and we both heard the pumps going aboard the sloop, and saw the signal run up, “Come on board; hands wanted from the shore.” In no time some of the sloop’s liberty-men were already running down to the water’s edge, and the party of seamen, under orders against the Pirates, were putting off to the Columbus in two boats.
“O Christian George King sar berry sorry!” says that Sambo vagabond, then. “Christian George King cry, English fashion!” His English fashion of crying was to screw his black knuckles into his eyes, howl like a dog, and roll himself on his back on the sand. It was trying not to kick him, but I gave Charker the word, “Double-quick, Harry!” and we got down to the water’s edge, and got on board the sloop.
By some means or other, she had sprung such a leak, that no pumping would keep her free; and what between the two fears that she would go down in the harbour, and that, even if she did not, all the supplies she had brought for the little colony would be destroyed by the sea-water as it rose in her, there was great confusion. In the midst of it, Captain Maryon was heard hailing from the beach. He had been carried down in his hammock, and looked very bad; but he insisted on being stood there on his feet; and I saw him, myself, come off in the boat, sitting upright in the stern-sheets, as if nothing was wrong with him.
A quick sort of council was held, and Captain Maryon soon resolved that we must all fall to work to get the cargo out, and that when that was done, the guns and heavy matters must be got out, and that the sloop must be hauled ashore, and careened, and the leak stopped. We were all mustered (the Pirate-Chace party volunteering), and told off into parties, with so many hours of spell and so many hours of relief, and we all went at it with a will. Christian George King was entered one of the party in which I worked, at his own request, and he went at it with as good a will as any of the rest. He went at it with so much heartiness, to say the truth, that he rose in my good opinion almost as fast as the water rose in the ship. Which was fast enough, and faster.
Mr. Commissioner Pordage kept in a red-and-black japanned box, like a family lump-sugar box, some document or other, which some Sambo chief or other had got drunk and spilt some ink over (as well as I could understand the matter), and by that means had given up lawful possession of the Island. Through having hold of this box, Mr. Pordage got his title of Commissioner. He was styled Consul too, and spoke of himself as “Government.”
He was a stiff-jointed, high-nosed old gentleman, without an ounce of fat on him, of a very angry temper and a very yellow complexion. Mrs. Commissioner Pordage, making allowance for difference of sex, was much the same. Mr. Kitten, a small, youngish, bald, botanical and mineralogical gentleman, also connected with the mine — but everybody there was that, more or less — was sometimes called by Mr. Commissioner Pordage, his Vice-commissioner, and sometimes his Deputy-consul. Or sometimes he spoke of Mr. Kitten, merely as being “under Government.”
The beach was beginning to be a lively scene with the preparations for careening the sloop, and with cargo, and spars, and rigging, and water-casks, dotted about it, and with temporary quarters for the men rising up there out of such sails and odds and ends as could be best set on one side to make them, when Mr. Commissioner Pordage comes down in a high fluster, and asks for Captain Maryon. The Captain, ill as he was, was slung in his hammock betwixt two trees, that he might direct; and he raised his head, and answered for himself.
“Captain Maryon,” cries Mr. Commissioner Pordage, “this is not official. This is not regular.”
“Sir,” says the Captain, “it hath been arranged with the clerk and supercargo, that you should be communicated with, and requested to render any little assistance that may lie in your power. I am quite certain that hath been duly done.”
“Captain Maryon,” replied Mr. Commissioner Pordage, “there hath been no written correspondence. No documents have passed, no memoranda have been made, no minutes have been made, no entries and counter- entries appear in the official muniments. This is indecent. I call upon you, sir, to desist, until all is regular, or Government will take this up.”
“Sir,” says Captain Maryon, chafing a little, as he looked out of his hammock; “between the chances of Government taking this up, and my ship taking herself down, I much prefer to trust myself to the former.”
“You do, sir?” cries Mr. Commissioner Pordage.
“I do, sir,” says Captain Maryon, lying down again.
“Then, Mr. Kitten,” says the Commissioner, “send up instantly for my Diplomatic coat.”
He was dressed in a linen suit at that moment; but, Mr. Kitten started off himself and brought down the Diplomatic coat, which was a blue cloth one, gold-laced, and with a crown on the button.
“Now, Mr. Kitten,” says Pordage, “I instruct you, as Vice- commissioner, and Deputy-consul of this place, to demand of Captain Maryon, of the sloop Christopher Columbus, whether he drives me to the act of putting this coat on?”
“Mr. Pordage,” says Captain Maryon, looking out of his hammock again, “as I can hear what you say, I can answer it without troubling the gentleman. I should be sorry that you should be at the pains of putting on too hot a coat on my account; but, otherwise, you may put it on hind-side before, or inside-out, or with your legs in the sleeves, or your head in the skirts, for any objection that I have to offer to your thoroughly pleasing yourself.”
“Very good, Captain Maryon,” says Pordage, in a tremendous passion. “Very good, sir. Be the consequences on your own head! Mr. Kitten, as it has come to this, help me on with it.”
When he had given that order, he walked off in the coat, and all our names were taken, and I was afterwards told that Mr. Kitten wrote from his dictation more than a bushel of large paper on the subject, which cost more before it was done with, than ever could be calculated, and which only got done with after all, by being lost.
Our work went on merrily, nevertheless, and the Christopher Columbus, hauled up, lay helpless on her side like a great fish out of water. While she was in that state, there was a feast, or a ball, or an entertainment, or more properly all three together, given us in honour of the ship, and the ship’s company, and the other visitors. At that assembly, I believe, I saw all the inhabitants then upon the Island, without any exception. I took no particular notice of more than a few, but I found it very agreeable in that little corner of the world to see the children, who were of all ages, and mostly very pretty — as they mostly are. There was one handsome elderly lady, with very dark eyes and gray hair, that I inquired about. I was told that her name was Mrs. Venning; and her married daughter, a fair slight thing, was pointed out to me by the name of Fanny Fisher. Quite a child she looked, with a little copy of herself holding to her dress; and her husband, just come back from the mine, exceeding proud of her. They were a good-looking set of people on the whole, but I didn’t like them. I was out of sorts; in conversation with Charker, I found fault with all of them. I said of Mrs. Venning, she was proud; of Mrs. Fisher, she was a delicate little baby-fool. What did I think of this one? Why, he was a fine gentleman. What did I say to that one? Why, she was a fine lady. What could you expect them to be (I asked Charker), nursed in that climate, with the tropical night shining for them, musical instruments playing to them, great trees bending over them, soft lamps lighting them, fire-flies sparkling in among them, bright flowers and birds brought into existence to please their eyes, delicious drinks to be had for the pouring out, delicious fruits to be got for the picking, and every one dancing and murmuring happily in the scented air, with the sea breaking low on the reef for a pleasant chorus.
“Fine gentlemen and fine ladies, Harry?” I says to Charker. “Yes, I think so! Dolls! Dolls! Not the sort of stuff for wear, that comes of poor private soldiering in the Royal Marines!”
However, I could not gainsay that they were very hospitable people, and that they treated us uncommonly well. Every man of us was at the entertainment, and Mrs. Belltott had more partners than she could dance with: though she danced all night, too. As to Jack (whether of the Christopher Columbus, or of the Pirate pursuit party, it made no difference), he danced with his brother Jack, danced with himself, danced with the moon, the stars, the trees, the prospect, anything. I didn’t greatly take to the chief-officer of that party, with his bright eyes, brown face, and easy figure. I didn’t much like his way when he first happened to come where we were, with Miss Maryon on his arm. “O, Captain Carton,” she says, “here are two friends of mine!” He says, “Indeed? These two Marines?”— meaning Charker and self. “Yes,” says she, “I showed these two friends of mine when they first came, all the wonders of Silver-Store.” He gave us a laughing look, and says he, “You are in luck, men. I would be disrated and go before the mast to-morrow, to be shown the way upward again by such a guide. You are in luck, men.” When we had saluted, and he and the lady had waltzed away, I said, “You are a pretty follow, too, to talk of luck. You may go to the Devil!”
Mr. Commissioner Pordage and Mrs. Commissioner, showed among the company on that occasion like the King and Queen of a much Greater Britain than Great Britain. Only two other circumstances in that jovial night made much separate impression on me. One was this. A man in our draft of marines, named Tom Packer, a wild unsteady young fellow, but the son of a respectable shipwright in Portsmouth Yard, and a good scholar who had been well brought up, comes to me after a spell of dancing, and takes me aside by the elbow, and says, swearing angrily:
“Gill Davis, I hope I may not be the death of Sergeant Drooce one day!”
Now, I knew Drooce had always borne particularly hard on this man, and I knew this man to be of a very hot temper: so, I said:
“Tut, nonsense! don’t talk so to me! If there’s a man in the corps who scorns the name of an assassin, that man and Tom Packer are one.”
Tom wipes his head, being in a mortal sweat, and says he:
“I hope so, but I can’t answer for myself when he lords it over me, as he has just now done, before a woman. I tell you what, Gill! Mark my words! It will go hard with Sergeant Drooce, if ever we are in an engagement together, and he has to look to me to save him. Let him say a prayer then, if he knows one, for it’s all over with him, and he is on his Death-bed. Mark my words!”
I did mark his words, and very soon afterwards, too, as will shortly be taken down.
The other circumstance that I noticed at that ball, was, the gaiety and attachment of Christian George King. The innocent spirits that Sambo Pilot was in, and the impossibility he found himself under of showing all the little colony, but especially the ladies and children, how fond he was of them, how devoted to them, and how faithful to them for life and death, for present, future, and everlasting, made a great impression on me. If ever a man, Sambo or no Sambo, was trustful and trusted, to what may be called quite an infantine and sweetly beautiful extent, surely, I thought that morning when I did at last lie down to rest, it was that Sambo Pilot, Christian George King.
This may account for my dreaming of him. He stuck in my sleep, cornerwise, and I couldn’t get him out. He was always flitting about me, dancing round me, and peeping in over my hammock, though I woke and dozed off again fifty times. At last, when I opened my eyes, there he really was, looking in at the open side of the little dark hut; which was made of leaves, and had Charker’s hammock slung in it as well as mine.
“So-Jeer!” says he, in a sort of a low croak. “Yup!”
“Hallo!” says I, starting up. “What? You are there, are you?”
“Iss,” says he. “Christian George King got news.”
“What news has he got?”
I was on my feet in a second. So was Charker. We were both aware that Captain Carton, in command of the boats, constantly watched the mainland for a secret signal, though, of course, it was not known to such as us what the signal was.
Christian George King had vanished before we touched the ground. But, the word was already passing from hut to hut to turn out quietly, and we knew that the nimble barbarian had got hold of the truth, or something near it.
In a space among the trees behind the encampment of us visitors, naval and military, was a snugly-screened spot, where we kept the stores that were in use, and did our cookery. The word was passed to assemble here. It was very quickly given, and was given (so far as we were concerned) by Sergeant Drooce, who was as good in a soldier point of view, as he was bad in a tyrannical one. We were ordered to drop into this space, quietly, behind the trees, one by one. As we assembled here, the seamen assembled too. Within ten minutes, as I should estimate, we were all here, except the usual guard upon the beach. The beach (we could see it through the wood) looked as it always had done in the hottest time of the day. The guard were in the shadow of the sloop’s hull, and nothing was moving but the sea — and that moved very faintly. Work had always been knocked off at that hour, until the sun grew less fierce, and the sea-breeze rose; so that its being holiday with us, made no difference, just then, in the look of the place. But I may mention that it was a holiday, and the first we had had since our hard work began. Last night’s ball had been given, on the leak’s being repaired, and the careening done. The worst of the work was over, and to-morrow we were to begin to get the sloop afloat again.
We marines were now drawn up here under arms. The chace-party were drawn up separate. The men of the Columbus were drawn up separate. The officers stepped out into the midst of the three parties, and spoke so as all might hear. Captain Carton was the officer in command, and he had a spy-glass in his hand. His coxswain stood by him with another spy-glass, and with a slate on which he seemed to have been taking down signals.
“Now, men!” says Captain Carton; “I have to let you know, for your satisfaction: Firstly, that there are ten pirate-boats, strongly manned and armed, lying hidden up a creek yonder on the coast, under the overhanging branches of the dense trees. Secondly, that they will certainly come out this night when the moon rises, on a pillaging and murdering expedition, of which some part of the mainland is the object. Thirdly — don’t cheer, men! — that we will give chace, and, if we can get at them, rid the world of them, please God!”
Nobody spoke, that I heard, and nobody moved, that I saw. Yet there was a kind of ring, as if every man answered and approved with the best blood that was inside of him.
“Sir,” says Captain Maryon, “I beg to volunteer on this service, with my boats. My people volunteer, to the ship’s boys.”
“In His Majesty’s name and service,” the other answers, touching his hat, “I accept your aid with pleasure. Lieutenant Linderwood, how will you divide your men?”
I was ashamed — I give it out to be written down as large and plain as possible — I was heart and soul ashamed of my thoughts of those two sick officers, Captain Maryon and Lieutenant Linderwood, when I saw them, then and there. The spirit in those two gentlemen beat down their illness (and very ill I knew them to be) like Saint George beating down the Dragon. Pain and weakness, want of ease and want of rest, had no more place in their minds than fear itself. Meaning now to express for my lady to write down, exactly what I felt then and there, I felt this: “You two brave fellows that I had been so grudgeful of, I know that if you were dying you would put it off to get up and do your best, and then you would be so modest that in lying down again to die, you would hardly say, ‘I did it!’”
It did me good. It really did me good.
But, to go back to where I broke off. Says Captain Carton to Lieutenant Linderwood, “Sir, how will you divide your men? There is not room for all; and a few men should, in any case, be left here.”
There was some debate about it. At last, it was resolved to leave eight Marines and four seamen on the Island, besides the sloop’s two boys. And because it was considered that the friendly Sambos would only want to be commanded in case of any danger (though none at all was apprehended there), the officers were in favour of leaving the two non-commissioned officers, Drooce and Charker. It was a heavy disappointment to them, just as my being one of the left was a heavy disappointment to me — then, but not soon afterwards. We men drew lots for it, and I drew “Island.” So did Tom Packer. So of course, did four more of our rank and file.
When this was settled, verbal instructions were given to all hands to keep the intended expedition secret, in order that the women and children might not be alarmed, or the expedition put in a difficulty by more volunteers. The assembly was to be on that same spot at sunset. Every man was to keep up an appearance, meanwhile, of occupying himself in his usual way. That is to say, every man excepting four old trusty seamen, who were appointed, with an officer, to see to the arms and ammunition, and to muffle the rullocks of the boats, and to make everything as trim and swift and silent as it could be made.
The Sambo Pilot had been present all the while, in case of his being wanted, and had said to the officer in command, five hundred times over if he had said it once, that Christian George King would stay with the So-Jeers, and take care of the booffer ladies and the booffer childs — booffer being that native’s expression for beautiful. He was now asked a few questions concerning the putting off of the boats, and in particular whether there was any way of embarking at the back of the Island: which Captain Carton would have half liked to do, and then have dropped round in its shadow and slanted across to the main. But, “No,” says Christian George King. “No, no, no! Told you so, ten time. No, no, no! All reef, all rock, all swim, all drown!” Striking out as he said it, like a swimmer gone mad, and turning over on his back on dry land, and spluttering himself to death, in a manner that made him quite an exhibition.
The sun went down, after appearing to be a long time about it, and the assembly was called. Every man answered to his name, of course, and was at his post. It was not yet black dark, and the roll was only just gone through, when up comes Mr. Commissioner Pordage with his Diplomatic coat on.
“Captain Carton,” says he, “Sir, what is this?”
“This, Mr. Commissioner” (he was very short with him), “is an expedition against the Pirates. It is a secret expedition, so please to keep it a secret.”
“Sir,” says Commissioner Pordage, “I trust there is going to be no unnecessary cruelty committed?”
“Sir,” returns the officer, “I trust not.”
“That is not enough, sir,” cries Commissioner Pordage, getting wroth. “Captain Carton, I give you notice. Government requires you to treat the enemy with great delicacy, consideration, clemency, and forbearance.”
“Sir,” says Captain Carton, “I am an English officer, commanding English Men, and I hope I am not likely to disappoint the Government’s just expectations. But, I presume you know that these villains under their black flag have despoiled our countrymen of their property, burnt their homes, barbarously murdered them and their little children, and worse than murdered their wives and daughters?”
“Perhaps I do, Captain Carton,” answers Pordage, waving his hand, with dignity; “perhaps I do not. It is not customary, sir, for Government to commit itself.”
“It matters very little, Mr. Pordage, whether or no. Believing that I hold my commission by the allowance of God, and not that I have received it direct from the Devil, I shall certainly use it, with all avoidance of unnecessary suffering and with all merciful swiftness of execution, to exterminate these people from the face of the earth. Let me recommend you to go home, sir, and to keep out of the night-air.”
Never another syllable did that officer say to the Commissioner, but turned away to his men. The Commissioner buttoned his Diplomatic coat to the chin, said, “Mr. Kitten, attend me!” gasped, half choked himself, and took himself off.
It now fell very dark, indeed. I have seldom, if ever, seen it darker, nor yet so dark. The moon was not due until one in the morning, and it was but a little after nine when our men lay down where they were mustered. It was pretended that they were to take a nap, but everybody knew that no nap was to be got under the circumstances. Though all were very quiet, there was a restlessness among the people; much what I have seen among the people on a race- course, when the bell has rung for the saddling for a great race with large stakes on it.
At ten, they put off; only one boat putting off at a time; another following in five minutes; both then lying on their oars until another followed. Ahead of all, paddling his own outlandish little canoe without a sound, went the Sambo pilot, to take them safely outside the reef. No light was shown but once, and that was in the commanding officer’s own hand. I lighted the dark lantern for him, and he took it from me when he embarked. They had blue lights and such like with them, but kept themselves as dark as Murder.
The expedition got away with wonderful quietness, and Christian George King soon came back dancing with joy.
“Yup, So-Jeer,” says he to myself in a very objectionable kind of convulsions, “Christian George King sar berry glad. Pirates all be blown a-pieces. Yup! Yup!”
My reply to that cannibal was, “However glad you may be, hold your noise, and don’t dance jigs and slap your knees about it, for I can’t abear to see you do it.”
I was on duty then; we twelve who were left being divided into four watches of three each, three hours’ spell. I was relieved at twelve. A little before that time, I had challenged, and Miss Maryon and Mrs. Belltott had come in.
“Good Davis,” says Miss Maryon, “what is the matter? Where is my brother?”
I told her what was the matter, and where her brother was.
“O Heaven help him!” says she, clasping her hands and looking up — she was close in front of me, and she looked most lovely to be sure; he is not sufficiently recovered, not strong enough for such strife!”
“If you had seen him, miss,” I told her, “as I saw him when he volunteered, you would have known that his spirit is strong enough for any strife. It will bear his body, miss, to wherever duty calls him. It will always bear him to an honourable life, or a brave death.”
“Heaven bless you!” says she, touching my arm. “I know it. Heaven bless you!”
Mrs. Belltott surprised me by trembling and saying nothing. They were still standing looking towards the sea and listening, after the relief had come round. It continuing very dark, I asked to be allowed to take them back. Miss Maryon thanked me, and she put her arm in mine, and I did take them back. I have now got to make a confession that will appear singular. After I had left them, I laid myself down on my face on the beach, and cried for the first time since I had frightened birds as a boy at Snorridge Bottom, to think what a poor, ignorant, low-placed, private soldier I was.
It was only for half a minute or so. A man can’t at all times be quite master of himself, and it was only for half a minute or so. Then I up and went to my hut, and turned into my hammock, and fell asleep with wet eyelashes, and a sore, sore heart. Just as I had often done when I was a child, and had been worse used than usual.
I slept (as a child under those circumstances might) very sound, and yet very sore at heart all through my sleep. I was awoke by the words, “He is a determined man.” I had sprung out of my hammock, and had seized my firelock, and was standing on the ground, saying the words myself. “He is a determined man.” But, the curiosity of my state was, that I seemed to be repeating them after somebody, and to have been wonderfully startled by hearing them.
As soon as I came to myself, I went out of the hut, and away to where the guard was. Charker challenged:
“Who goes there?”
“Not Gill?” says he, as he shouldered his piece.
“Gill,” says I.
“Why, what the deuce do you do out of your hammock?” says he.
“Too hot for sleep,” says I; “is all right?”
“Right!” says Charker, “yes, yes; all’s right enough here; what should be wrong here? It’s the boats that we want to know of. Except for fire-flies twinkling about, and the lonesome splashes of great creatures as they drop into the water, there’s nothing going on here to ease a man’s mind from the boats.”
The moon was above the sea, and had risen, I should say, some half- an-hour. As Charker spoke, with his face towards the sea, I, looking landward, suddenly laid my right hand on his breast, and said, “Don’t move. Don’t turn. Don’t raise your voice! You never saw a Maltese face here?”
“No. What do you mean?” he asks, staring at me.
“Nor yet, an English face, with one eye and a patch across the nose?”
“No. What ails you? What do you mean?”
I had seen both, looking at us round the stem of a cocoa-nut tree, where the moon struck them. I had seen that Sambo Pilot, with one hand laid on the stem of the tree, drawing them back into the heavy shadow. I had seen their naked cutlasses twinkle and shine, like bits of the moonshine in the water that had got blown ashore among the trees by the light wind. I had seen it all, in a moment. And I saw in a moment (as any man would), that the signalled move of the pirates on the mainland was a plot and a feint; that the leak had been made to disable the sloop; that the boats had been tempted away, to leave the Island unprotected; that the pirates had landed by some secreted way at the back; and that Christian George King was a double-dyed traitor, and a most infernal villain.
I considered, still all in one and the same moment, that Charker was a brave man, but not quick with his head; and that Sergeant Drooce, with a much better head, was close by. All I said to Charker was, “I am afraid we are betrayed. Turn your back full to the moonlight on the sea, and cover the stem of the cocoa-nut tree which will then be right before you, at the height of a man’s heart. Are you right?”
“I am right,” says Charker, turning instantly, and falling into the position with a nerve of iron; “and right ain’t left. Is it, Gill?”
A few seconds brought me to Sergeant Drooce’s hut. He was fast asleep, and being a heavy sleeper, I had to lay my hand upon him to rouse him. The instant I touched him he came rolling out of his hammock, and upon me like a tiger. And a tiger he was, except that he knew what he was up to, in his utmost heat, as well as any man.
I had to struggle with him pretty hard to bring him to his senses, panting all the while (for he gave me a breather), “Sergeant, I am Gill Davis! Treachery! Pirates on the Island!”
The last words brought him round, and he took his hands of. “I have seen two of them within this minute,” said I. And so I told him what I had told Harry Charker.
His soldierly, though tyrannical, head was clear in an instant. He didn’t waste one word, even of surprise. “Order the guard,” says he, “to draw off quietly into the Fort.” (They called the enclosure I have before mentioned, the Fort, though it was not much of that.) “Then get you to the Fort as quick as you can, rouse up every soul there, and fasten the gate. I will bring in all those who are at the Signal Hill. If we are surrounded before we can join you, you must make a sally and cut us out if you can. The word among our men is, ‘Women and children!’”
He burst away, like fire going before the wind over dry reeds. He roused up the seven men who were off duty, and had them bursting away with him, before they know they were not asleep. I reported orders to Charker, and ran to the Fort, as I have never run at any other time in all my life: no, not even in a dream.
The gate was not fast, and had no good fastening: only a double wooden bar, a poor chain, and a bad lock. Those, I secured as well as they could be secured in a few seconds by one pair of hands, and so ran to that part of the building where Miss Maryon lived. I called to her loudly by her name until she answered. I then called loudly all the names I knew — Mrs. Macey (Miss Maryon’s married sister), Mr. Macey, Mrs. Venning, Mr. and Mrs. Fisher, even Mr. and Mrs. Pordage. Then I called out, “All you gentlemen here, get up and defend the place! We are caught in a trap. Pirates have landed. We are attacked!”
At the terrible word “Pirates!”— for, those villains had done such deeds in those seas as never can be told in writing, and can scarcely be so much as thought of — cries and screams rose up from every part of the place. Quickly lights moved about from window to window, and the cries moved about with them, and men, women, and children came flying down into the square. I remarked to myself, even then, what a number of things I seemed to see at once. I noticed Mrs. Macey coming towards me, carrying all her three children together. I noticed Mr. Pordage in the greatest terror, in vain trying to get on his Diplomatic coat; and Mr. Kitten respectfully tying his pocket-handkerchief over Mrs. Pordage’s nightcap. I noticed Mrs. Belltott run out screaming, and shrink upon the ground near me, and cover her face in her hands, and lie all of a bundle, shivering. But, what I noticed with the greatest pleasure was, the determined eyes with which those men of the Mine that I had thought fine gentlemen, came round me with what arms they had: to the full as cool and resolute as I could be, for my life — ay, and for my soul, too, into the bargain!
The chief person being Mr. Macey, I told him how the three men of the guard would be at the gate directly, if they were not already there, and how Sergeant Drooce and the other seven were gone to bring in the outlying part of the people of Silver-Store. I next urged him, for the love of all who were dear to him, to trust no Sambo, and, above all, if he could got any good chance at Christian George King, not to lose it, but to put him out of the world.
“I will follow your advice to the letter, Davis,” says he; “what next?”
My answer was, “I think, sir, I would recommend you next, to order down such heavy furniture and lumber as can be moved, and make a barricade within the gate.”
“That’s good again,” says he: “will you see it done?”
“I’ll willingly help to do it,” says I, “unless or until my superior, Sergeant Drooce, gives me other orders.”
He shook me by the hand, and having told off some of his companions to help me, bestirred himself to look to the arms and ammunition. A proper quick, brave, steady, ready gentleman!
One of their three little children was deaf and dumb, Miss Maryon had been from the first with all the children, soothing them, and dressing them (poor little things, they had been brought out of their beds), and making them believe that it was a game of play, so that some of them were now even laughing. I had been working hard with the others at the barricade, and had got up a pretty good breast-work within the gate. Drooce and the seven men had come back, bringing in the people from the Signal Hill, and had worked along with us: but, I had not so much as spoken a word to Drooce, nor had Drooce so much as spoken a word to me, for we were both too busy. The breastwork was now finished, and I found Miss Maryon at my side, with a child in her arms. Her dark hair was fastened round her head with a band. She had a quantity of it, and it looked even richer and more precious, put up hastily out of her way, than I had seen it look when it was carefully arranged. She was very pale, but extraordinarily quiet and still.
“Dear good Davis,” said she, “I have been waiting to speak one word to you.”
I turned to her directly. If I had received a musket-ball in the heart, and she had stood there, I almost believe I should have turned to her before I dropped.
“This pretty little creature,” said she, kissing the child in her arms, who was playing with her hair and trying to pull it down, “cannot hear what we say — can hear nothing. I trust you so much, and have such great confidence in you, that I want you to make me a promise.”
“What is it, Miss?”
“That if we are defeated, and you are absolutely sure of my being taken, you will kill me.”
“I shall not be alive to do it, Miss. I shall have died in your defence before it comes to that. They must step across my body to lay a hand on you.”
“But, if you are alive, you brave soldier.” How she looked at me! “And if you cannot save me from the Pirates, living, you will save me, dead. Tell me so.”
Well! I told her I would do that at the last, if all else failed. She took my hand — my rough, coarse hand — and put it to her lips. She put it to the child’s lips, and the child kissed it. I believe I had the strength of half a dozen men in me, from that moment, until the fight was over.
All this time, Mr. Commissioner Pordage had been wanting to make a Proclamation to the Pirates to lay down their arms and go away; and everybody had been hustling him about and tumbling over him, while he was calling for pen and ink to write it with. Mrs. Pordage, too, had some curious ideas about the British respectability of her nightcap (which had as many frills to it, growing in layers one inside another, as if it was a white vegetable of the artichoke sort), and she wouldn’t take the nightcap off, and would be angry when it got crushed by the other ladies who were handing things about, and, in short, she gave as much trouble as her husband did. But, as we were now forming for the defence of the place, they were both poked out of the way with no ceremony. The children and ladies were got into the little trench which surrounded the silver-house (we were afraid of leaving them in any of the light buildings, lest they should be set on fire), and we made the best disposition we could. There was a pretty good store, in point of amount, of tolerable swords and cutlasses. Those were issued. There were, also, perhaps a score or so of spare muskets. Those were brought out. To my astonishment, little Mrs. Fisher that I had taken for a doll and a baby, was not only very active in that service, but volunteered to load the spare arms.
“For, I understand it well,” says she, cheerfully, without a shake in her voice.
“I am a soldier’s daughter and a sailor’s sister, and I understand it too,” says Miss Maryon, just in the same way.
Steady and busy behind where I stood, those two beautiful and delicate young women fell to handling the guns, hammering the flints, looking to the locks, and quietly directing others to pass up powder and bullets from hand to hand, as unflinching as the best of tried soldiers.
Sergeant Drooce had brought in word that the pirates were very strong in numbers — over a hundred was his estimate — and that they were not, even then, all landed; for, he had seen them in a very good position on the further side of the Signal Hill, evidently waiting for the rest of their men to come up. In the present pause, the first we had had since the alarm, he was telling this over again to Mr. Macey, when Mr. Macey suddenly cried our: “The signal! Nobody has thought of the signal!”
We knew of no signal, so we could not have thought of it.
“What signal may you mean, sir?” says Sergeant Drooce, looking sharp at him.
“There is a pile of wood upon the Signal Hill. If it could be lighted — which never has been done yet — it would be a signal of distress to the mainland.”
Charker cries, directly: “Sergeant Drooce, dispatch me on that duty. Give me the two men who were on guard with me to-night, and I’ll light the fire, if it can be done.”
“And if it can’t, Corporal —” Mr. Macey strikes in.
“Look at these ladies and children, sir!” says Charker. “I’d sooner light myself, than not try any chance to save them.”
We gave him a Hurrah! — it burst from us, come of it what might — and he got his two men, and was let out at the gate, and crept away. I had no sooner come back to my place from being one of the party to handle the gate, than Miss Maryon said in a low voice behind me:
“Davis, will you look at this powder? This is not right.”
I turned my head. Christian George King again, and treachery again! Sea-water had been conveyed into the magazine, and every grain of powder was spoiled!
“Stay a moment,” said Sergeant Drooce, when I had told him, without causing a movement in a muscle of his face: “look to your pouch, my lad. You Tom Packer, look to your pouch, confound you! Look to your pouches, all you Marines.”
The same artful savage had got at them, somehow or another, and the cartridges were all unserviceable. “Hum!” says the Sergeant. “Look to your loading, men. You are right so far?”
Yes; we were right so far.
“Well, my lads, and gentlemen all,” says the Sergeant, “this will be a hand-to-hand affair, and so much the better.”
He treated himself to a pinch of snuff, and stood up, square- shouldered and broad-chested, in the light of the moon — which was now very bright — as cool as if he was waiting for a play to begin. He stood quiet, and we all stood quiet, for a matter of something like half-an-hour. I took notice from such whispered talk as there was, how little we that the silver did not belong to, thought about it, and how much the people that it did belong to, thought about it. At the end of the half-hour, it was reported from the gate that Charker and the two were falling back on us, pursued by about a dozen.
“Sally! Gate-party, under Gill Davis,” says the Sergeant, “and bring ’em in! Like men, now!”
We were not long about it, and we brought them in. “Don’t take me,” says Charker, holding me round the neck, and stumbling down at my feet when the gate was fast, “don’t take me near the ladies or the children, Gill. They had better not see Death, till it can’t be helped. They’ll see it soon enough.”
“Harry!” I answered, holding up his head. “Comrade!”
He was cut to pieces. The signal had been secured by the first pirate party that landed; his hair was all singed off, and his face was blackened with the running pitch from a torch.
He made no complaint of pain, or of anything. “Good-bye, old chap,” was all he said, with a smile. “I’ve got my death. And Death ain’t life. Is it, Gill?”
Having helped to lay his poor body on one side, I went back to my post. Sergeant Drooce looked at me, with his eyebrows a little lifted. I nodded. “Close up here men, and gentlemen all!” said the Sergeant. “A place too many, in the line.”
The Pirates were so close upon us at this time, that the foremost of them were already before the gate. More and more came up with a great noise, and shouting loudly. When we believed from the sound that they were all there, we gave three English cheers. The poor little children joined, and were so fully convinced of our being at play, that they enjoyed the noise, and were heard clapping their hands in the silence that followed.
Our disposition was this, beginning with the rear. Mrs. Venning, holding her daughter’s child in her arms, sat on the steps of the little square trench surrounding the silver-house, encouraging and directing those women and children as she might have done in the happiest and easiest time of her life. Then, there was an armed line, under Mr. Macey, across the width of the enclosure, facing that way and having their backs towards the gate, in order that they might watch the walls and prevent our being taken by surprise. Then there was a space of eight or ten feet deep, in which the spare arms were, and in which Miss Maryon and Mrs. Fisher, their hands and dresses blackened with the spoilt gunpowder, worked on their knees, tying such things as knives, old bayonets, and spear-heads, to the muzzles of the useless muskets. Then, there was a second armed line, under Sergeant Drooce, also across the width of the enclosure, but facing to the gate. Then came the breastwork we had made, with a zigzag way through it for me and my little party to hold good in retreating, as long as we could, when we were driven from the gate. We all knew that it was impossible to hold the place long, and that our only hope was in the timely discovery of the plot by the boats, and in their coming back.
I and my men were now thrown forward to the gate. From a spy-hole, I could see the whole crowd of Pirates. There were Malays among them, Dutch, Maltese, Greeks, Sambos, Negroes, and Convict Englishmen from the West India Islands; among the last, him with the one eye and the patch across the nose. There were some Portuguese, too, and a few Spaniards. The captain was a Portuguese; a little man with very large ear-rings under a very broad hat, and a great bright shawl twisted about his shoulders. They were all strongly armed, but like a boarding party, with pikes, swords, cutlasses, and axes. I noticed a good many pistols, but not a gun of any kind among them. This gave me to understand that they had considered that a continued roll of musketry might perhaps have been heard on the mainland; also, that for the reason that fire would be seen from the mainland they would not set the Fort in flames and roast us alive; which was one of their favourite ways of carrying on. I looked about for Christian George King, and if I had seen him I am much mistaken if he would not have received my one round of ball- cartridge in his head. But, no Christian George King was visible.
A sort of a wild Portuguese demon, who seemed either fierce-mad or fierce-drunk — but, they all seemed one or the other — came forward with the black flag, and gave it a wave or two. After that, the Portuguese captain called out in shrill English, “I say you! English fools! Open the gate! Surrender!”
As we kept close and quiet, he said something to his men which I didn’t understand, and when he had said it, the one-eyed English rascal with the patch (who had stepped out when he began), said it again in English. It was only this. “Boys of the black flag, this is to be quickly done. Take all the prisoners you can. If they don’t yield, kill the children to make them. Forward!” Then, they all came on at the gate, and in another half-minute were smashing and splitting it in.
We struck at them through the gaps and shivers, and we dropped many of them, too; but, their very weight would have carried such a gate, if they had been unarmed. I soon found Sergeant Drooce at my side, forming us six remaining marines in line — Tom Packer next to me — and ordering us to fall back three paces, and, as they broke in, to give them our one little volley at short distance. “Then,” says he, “receive them behind your breastwork on the bayonet, and at least let every man of you pin one of the cursed cockchafers through the body.”
We checked them by our fire, slight as it was, and we checked them at the breastwork. However, they broke over it like swarms of devils — they were, really and truly, more devils than men — and then it was hand to hand, indeed.
We clubbed our muskets and laid about us; even then, those two ladies — always behind me — were steady and ready with the arms. I had a lot of Maltese and Malays upon me, and, but for a broadsword that Miss Maryon’s own hand put in mine, should have got my end from them. But, was that all? No. I saw a heap of banded dark hair and a white dress come thrice between me and them, under my own raised right arm, which each time might have destroyed the wearer of the white dress; and each time one of the lot went down, struck dead.
Drooce was armed with a broadsword, too, and did such things with it, that there was a cry, in half-a-dozen languages, of “Kill that sergeant!” as I knew, by the cry being raised in English, and taken up in other tongues. I had received a severe cut across the left arm a few moments before, and should have known nothing of it, except supposing that somebody had struck me a smart blow, if I had not felt weak, and seen myself covered with spouting blood, and, at the same instant of time, seen Miss Maryon tearing her dress and binding it with Mrs. Fisher’s help round the wound. They called to Tom Packer, who was scouring by, to stop and guard me for one minute, while I was bound, or I should bleed to death in trying to defend myself. Tom stopped directly, with a good sabre in his hand.
In that same moment — all things seem to happen in that same moment, at such a time — half-a-dozen had rushed howling at Sergeant Drooce. The Sergeant, stepping back against the wall, stopped one howl for ever with such a terrible blow, and waited for the rest to come on, with such a wonderfully unmoved face, that they stopped and looked at him.
“See him now!” cried Tom Packer. “Now, when I could cut him out! Gill! Did I tell you to mark my words?”
I implored Tom Packer in the Lord’s name, as well as I could in my faintness, to go to the Sergeant’s aid.
“I hate and detest him,” says Tom, moodily wavering. “Still, he is a brave man.” Then he calls out, “Sergeant Drooce, Sergeant Drooce! Tell me you have driven me too hard, and are sorry for it.”
The Sergeant, without turning his eyes from his assailants, which would have been instant death to him, answers.
“No. I won’t.”
“Sergeant Drooce!” cries Tom, in a kind of an agony. “I have passed my word that I would never save you from Death, if I could, but would leave you to die. Tell me you have driven me too hard and are sorry for it, and that shall go for nothing.”
One of the group laid the Sergeant’s bald bare head open. The Sergeant laid him dead.
“I tell you,” says the Sergeant, breathing a little short, and waiting for the next attack, “no. I won’t. If you are not man enough to strike for a fellow-soldier because he wants help, and because of nothing else, I’ll go into the other world and look for a better man.”
Tom swept upon them, and cut him out. Tom and he fought their way through another knot of them, and sent them flying, and came over to where I was beginning again to feel, with inexpressible joy, that I had got a sword in my hand.
They had hardly come to us, when I heard, above all the other noises, a tremendous cry of women’s voices. I also saw Miss Maryon, with quite a new face, suddenly clap her two hands over Mrs. Fisher’s eyes. I looked towards the silver-house, and saw Mrs. Venning — standing upright on the top of the steps of the trench, with her gray hair and her dark eyes — hide her daughter’s child behind her, among the folds of her dress, strike a pirate with her other hand, and fall, shot by his pistol.
The cry arose again, and there was a terrible and confusing rush of the women into the midst of the struggle. In another moment, something came tumbling down upon me that I thought was the wall. It was a heap of Sambos who had come over the wall; and of four men who clung to my legs like serpents, one who clung to my right leg was Christian George King.
“Yup, So-Jeer,” says he, “Christian George King sar berry glad So- Jeer a prisoner. Christian George King been waiting for So-Jeer sech long time. Yup, yup!”
What could I do, with five-and-twenty of them on me, but be tied hand and foot? So, I was tied hand and foot. It was all over now — boats not come back — all lost! When I was fast bound and was put up against the wall, the one-eyed English convict came up with the Portuguese Captain, to have a look at me.
“See!” says he. “Here’s the determined man! If you had slept sounder, last night, you’d have slept your soundest last night, my determined man.”
The Portuguese Captain laughed in a cool way, and with the flat of his cutlass, hit me crosswise, as if I was the bough of a tree that he played with: first on the face, and then across the chest and the wounded arm. I looked him steady in the face without tumbling while he looked at me, I am happy to say; but, when they went away, I fell, and lay there.
The sun was up, when I was roused and told to come down to the beach and be embarked. I was full of aches and pains, and could not at first remember; but, I remembered quite soon enough. The killed were lying about all over the place, and the Pirates were burying their dead, and taking away their wounded on hastily-made litters, to the back of the Island. As for us prisoners, some of their boats had come round to the usual harbour, to carry us off. We looked a wretched few, I thought, when I got down there; still, it was another sign that we had fought well, and made the enemy suffer.
The Portuguese Captain had all the women already embarked in the boat he himself commanded, which was just putting off when I got down. Miss Maryon sat on one side of him, and gave me a moment’s look, as full of quiet courage, and pity, and confidence, as if it had been an hour long. On the other side of him was poor little Mrs. Fisher, weeping for her child and her mother. I was shoved into the same boat with Drooce and Packer, and the remainder of our party of marines: of whom we had lost two privates, besides Charker, my poor, brave comrade. We all made a melancholy passage, under the hot sun over to the mainland. There, we landed in a solitary place, and were mustered on the sea sand. Mr. and Mrs. Macey and their children were amongst us, Mr. and Mrs. Pordage, Mr. Kitten, Mr. Fisher, and Mrs. Belltott. We mustered only fourteen men, fifteen women, and seven children. Those were all that remained of the English who had lain down to sleep last night, unsuspecting and happy, on the Island of Silver-Store.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07