The First Blow
I WAS so pleased at having given the slip to Long John
that I began to enjoy myself and look around me
with some interest on the strange land that I was in.
I had crossed a marshy tract full of willows, bulrushes,
and odd, outlandish, swampy trees; and I had now come out
upon the skirts of an open piece of undulating, sandy country,
about a mile long, dotted with a few pines and a great
of contorted trees, not unlike the oak in growth, but pale
in the foliage, like willows. On the far side of the open
stood one of the hills, with two quaint, craggy peaks shining
vividly in the sun.
I now felt for the first time the joy of exploration.
The isle was uninhabited; my shipmates I had left behind,
and nothing lived in front of me but dumb brutes and fowls.
I turned hither and thither among the trees. Here and there
flowering plants, unknown to me; here and there I saw snakes,
and one raised his head from a ledge of rock and hissed
with a noise not unlike the spinning of a top. Little did
that he was a deadly enemy and that the noise was the famous
Then I came to a long thicket of these oaklike trees--
live, or evergreen, oaks, I heard afterwards they should
which grew low along the sand like brambles,
the boughs curiously twisted, the foliage compact, like
The thicket stretched down from the top of one of the sandy
spreading and growing taller as it went, until it reached
of the broad, reedy fen, through which the nearest of the
rivers soaked its way into the anchorage. The marsh was
in the strong sun, and the outline of the Spy-glass trembled
through the haze.
All at once there began to go a sort of bustle among the
a wild duck flew up with a quack, another followed, and
over the whole surface of the marsh a great cloud of birds
screaming and circling in the air. I judged at once that
of my shipmates must be drawing near along the borders
of the fen. Nor was I deceived, for soon I heard the very
and low tones of a human voice, which, as I continued to
grew steadily louder and nearer.
This put me in a great fear, and I crawled under cover
of the nearest live-oak and squatted there, hearkening,
as silent as a mouse.
Another voice answered, and then the first voice, which
recognized to be Silver's, once more took up the story
and ran on for a long while in a stream, only now and again
interrupted by the other. By the sound they must have been
talking earnestly, and almost fiercely; but no distinct
came to my hearing.
At last the speakers seemed to have paused and perhaps
sat down, for not only did they cease to draw any nearer,
but the birds themselves began to grow more quiet and
to settle again to their places in the swamp.
And now I began to feel that I was neglecting my business,
that since I had been so foolhardy as to come ashore with
these desperadoes, the least I could do was to overhear
at their councils, and that my plain and obvious duty was
to draw as close as I could manage, under the favourable
of the crouching trees.
I could tell the direction of the speakers pretty exactly,
by the sound of their voices but by the behaviour of the
that still hung in alarm above the heads of the intruders.
Crawling on all fours, I made steadily but slowly towards
till at last, raising my head to an aperture among the
I could see clear down into a little green dell beside
and closely set about with trees, where Long John Silver
another of the crew stood face to face in conversation.
The sun beat full upon them. Silver had thrown his hat
on the ground, and his great, smooth, blond face, all shining
with heat, was lifted to the other man's in a kind of appeal.
"Mate," he was saying, "it's because I thinks
gold dust of you--
gold dust, and you may lay to that! If I hadn't took to
like pitch, do you think I'd have been here a-warning of
All's up--you can't make nor mend; it's to save your neck
that I'm a-speaking, and if one of the wild uns knew it,
where'd I be, Tom--now, tell me, where'd I be?"
"Silver," said the other man--and I observed
not only red in the face, but spoke as hoarse as a crow,
and his voice shook too, like a taut rope--"Silver,"
"you're old, and you're honest, or has the name for
and you've money too, which lots of poor sailors hasn't;
and you're brave, or I'm mistook. And will you tell me
you'll let yourself be led away with that kind of a mess
Not you! As sure as God sees me, I'd sooner lose my hand.
If I turn agin my dooty--"
And then all of a sudden he was interrupted by a noise.
I had found one of the honest hands--well, here, at that
moment, came news of another. Far away out in the marsh
there arose, all of a sudden, a sound like the cry of anger,
then another on the back of it; and then one horrid,
long-drawn scream. The rocks of the Spy-glass re-echoed
a score of times; the whole troop of marsh-birds rose again,
darkening heaven, with a simultaneous whirr; and long after
that death yell was still ringing in my brain, silence
established its empire, and only the rustle of the redescending
and the boom of the distant surges disturbed the languor
Tom had leaped at the sound, like a horse at the spur,
but Silver had not winked an eye. He stood where he was,
resting lightly on his crutch, watching his companion
like a snake about to spring.
"John!" said the sailor, stretching out his hand.
"Hands off!" cried Silver, leaping back a yard,
as it seemed to me,
with the speed and security of a trained gymnast.
"Hands off, if you like, John Silver," said the
"It's a black conscience that can make you feared
But in heaven's name, tell me, what was that?"
"That?" returned Silver, smiling away, but warier
his eye a mere pin-point in his big face, but gleaming
like a crumb of glass. "That? Oh, I reckon that'll
And at this point Tom flashed out like a hero.
"Alan!" he cried. "Then rest his soul for
a true seaman!
And as for you, John Silver, long you've been a mate of
but you're mate of mine no more. If I die like a dog,
I'll die in my dooty. You've killed Alan, have you?
Kill me too, if you can. But I defies you."
And with that, this brave fellow turned his back
directly on the cook and set off walking for the beach.
But he was not destined to go far. With a cry John seized
the branch of a tree, whipped the crutch out of his armpit,
and sent that uncouth missile hurtling through the air.
It struck poor Tom, point foremost, and with stunning violence,
right between the shoulders in the middle of his back.
His hands flew up, he gave a sort of gasp, and fell.
Whether he were injured much or little, none could ever
Like enough, to judge from the sound, his back was broken
on the spot. But he had no time given him to recover.
Silver, agile as a monkey even without leg or crutch,
was on the top of him next moment and had twice buried
up to the hilt in that defenceless body. From my place
I could hear him pant aloud as he struck the blows.
I do not know what it rightly is to faint, but I do know
that for the next little while the whole world swam away
from before me in a whirling mist; Silver and the birds,
and the tall Spy-glass hilltop, going round and round and
topsy-turvy before my eyes, and all manner of bells ringing
and distant voices shouting in my ear.
When I came again to myself the monster had pulled
himself together, his crutch under his arm, his hat upon
Just before him Tom lay motionless upon the sward;
but the murderer minded him not a whit, cleansing his
blood-stained knife the while upon a wisp of grass.
Everything else was unchanged, the sun still shining mercilessly
on the steaming marsh and the tall pinnacle of the mountain,
I could scarce persuade myself that murder had been actually
and a human life cruelly cut short a moment since before
But now John put his hand into his pocket, brought out
and blew upon it several modulated blasts that rang
far across the heated air. I could not tell, of course,
the meaning of the signal, but it instantly awoke my fears.
More men would be coming. I might be discovered.
They had already slain two of the honest people;
after Tom and Alan, might not I come next?
Instantly I began to extricate myself and crawl back again,
with what speed and silence I could manage, to the
more open portion of the wood. As I did so, I could hear
coming and going between the old buccaneer and his comrades,
and this sound of danger lent me wings. As soon as I was
clear of the thicket, I ran as I never ran before, scarce
the direction of my flight, so long as it led me from the
and as I ran, fear grew and grew upon me until it turned
into a kind of frenzy.
Indeed, could anyone be more entirely lost than I?
When the gun fired, how should I dare to go down to the
among those fiends, still smoking from their crime?
Would not the first of them who saw me wring my neck
like a snipe's? Would not my absence itself be an evidence
of my alarm, and therefore of my fatal knowledge?
It was all over, I thought. Good-bye to the HISPANIOLA;
good-bye to the squire, the doctor, and the captain!
There was nothing left for me but death by starvation
or death by the hands of the mutineers.
All this while, as I say, I was still running, and without
taking any notice, I had drawn near to the foot of the
little hill with the two peaks and had got into a part
of the island
where the live-oaks grew more widely apart and seemed more
forest trees in their bearing and dimensions. Mingled with
were a few scattered pines, some fifty, some nearer seventy,
feet high. The air too smelt more freshly than down beside
And here a fresh alarm brought me to a standstill with
a thumping heart.
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