THE wind, serving us to a desire, now hauled into the west.
We could run so much the easier from the north-east corner
of the island to the mouth of the North Inlet. Only, as
no power to anchor and dared not beach her till the tide
had flowed a good deal farther, time hung on our hands.
The coxswain told me how to lay the ship to; after a good
trials I succeeded, and we both sat in silence over another
"Cap'n," said he at length with that same uncomfortable
"here's my old shipmate, O'Brien; s'pose you was to
overboard. I ain't partic'lar as a rule, and I don't take
for settling his hash, but I don't reckon him ornamental
"I'm not strong enough, and I don't like the job;
and there he lies,
for me," said I.
"This here's an unlucky ship, this HISPANIOLA, Jim,"
he went on, blinking. "There's a power of men been
in this HISPANIOLA --a sight o' poor seamen dead and gone
since you and me took ship to Bristol. I never seen sich
not I. There was this here O'Brien now--he's dead, ain't
Well now, I'm no scholar, and you're a lad as can read
and to put it straight, do you take it as a dead man is
dead for good,
or do he come alive again?"
"You can kill the body, Mr. Hands, but not the spirit;
you must know that already," I replied.
"O'Brien there is in another world, and may be watching
"Ah!" says he. "Well, that's unfort'nate--appears
as if killing parties
was a waste of time. Howsomever, sperrits don't reckon
by what I've seen. I'll chance it with the sperrits, Jim.
you've spoke up free, and I'll take it kind if you'd step
into that there cabin and get me a--well, a--shiver my
I can't hit the name on 't; well, you get me a bottle of
this here brandy's too strong for my head."
Now, the coxswain's hesitation seemed to be unnatural,
and as for the notion of his preferring wine to brandy,
I entirely disbelieved it. The whole story was a pretext.
He wanted me to leave the deck--so much was plain;
but with what purpose I could in no way imagine.
His eyes never met mine; they kept wandering to and fro,
up and down, now with a look to the sky, now with a flitting
glance upon the dead O'Brien. All the time he kept smiling
and putting his tongue out in the most guilty, embarrassed
so that a child could have told that he was bent on some
I was prompt with my answer, however, for I saw where my
advantage lay and that with a fellow so densely stupid
I could easily conceal my suspicions to the end.
"Some wine?" I said. "Far better. Will you
have white or red?"
"Well, I reckon it's about the blessed same to me,
he replied; "so it's strong, and plenty of it, what's
"All right," I answered. "I'll bring you
port, Mr. Hands.
But I'll have to dig for it."
With that I scuttled down the companion with all the noise
slipped off my shoes, ran quietly along the sparred gallery,
mounted the forecastle ladder, and popped my head out of
companion. I knew he would not expect to see me there,
yet I took every precaution possible, and certainly the
of my suspicions proved too true.
He had risen from his position to his hands and knees,
and though his leg obviously hurt him pretty sharply when
moved--for I could hear him stifle a groan-- yet it was
at a good,
rattling rate that he trailed himself across the deck.
In half a minute
he had reached the port scuppers and picked, out of a coil
a long knife, or rather a short dirk, discoloured to the
with blood. He looked upon it for a moment, thrusting forth
his under jaw, tried the point upon his hand, and then,
concealing it in the bosom of his jacket, trundled back
into his old place against the bulwark.
This was all that I required to know. Israel could move
he was now armed, and if he had been at so much trouble
to get rid of me, it was plain that I was meant to be the
What he would do afterwards-- whether he would try to crawl
right across the island from North Inlet to the camp among
the swamps or whether he would fire Long Tom, trusting
own comrades might come first to help him--was, of course,
more than I could say.
Yet I felt sure that I could trust him in one point, since
our interests jumped together, and that was in the disposition
of the schooner. We both desired to have her stranded safe
in a sheltered place, and so that, when the time came,
she could be
got off again with as little labour and danger as might
and until that was done I considered that my life would
While I was thus turning the business over in my mind,
I had not been idle with my body. I had stolen back to
slipped once more into my shoes, and laid my hand at random
on a bottle of wine, and now, with this for an excuse,
my reappearance on the deck.
Hands lay as I had left him, all fallen together in a bundle
and with his eyelids lowered as though he were too weak
to bear the light. He looked up, however, at my coming,
knocked the neck off the bottle like a man who had done
the same thing often, and took a good swig, with his favourite
of "Here's luck!" Then he lay quiet for a little,
pulling out a stick of tobacco, begged me to cut him a
"Cut me a junk o' that," says he, "for I
haven't no knife
and hardly strength enough, so be as I had. Ah, Jim, Jim,
I reckon I've missed stays! Cut me a quid, as'll likely
be the last,
lad, for I'm for my long home, and no mistake."
"Well," said I, "I'll cut you some tobacco,
but if I was you
and thought myself so badly, I would go to my prayers
like a Christian man."
"Why?" said he. "Now, you tell me why."
"Why?" I cried. "You were asking me just
now about the dead.
You've broken your trust; you've lived in sin and lies
there's a man you killed lying at your feet this moment,
and you ask me why! For God's mercy, Mr. Hands, that's
I spoke with a little heat, thinking of the bloody dirk
he had hidden in his pocket and designed, in his ill thoughts,
to end me with. He, for his part, took a great draught
of the wine
and spoke with the most unusual solemnity.
"For thirty years," he said, "I've sailed
and seen good and bad, better and worse, fair weather and
provisions running out, knives going, and what not.
Well, now I tell you, I never seen good come o' goodness
Him as strikes first is my fancy; dead men don't bite;
them's my views--amen, so be it. And now, you look here,"
he added, suddenly changing his tone, "we've had about
of this foolery. The tide's made good enough by now.
You just take my orders, Cap'n Hawkins, and we'll sail
and be done with it."
All told, we had scarce two miles to run; but the navigation
was delicate, the entrance to this northern anchorage was
narrow and shoal, but lay east and west, so that the schooner
must be nicely handled to be got in. I think I was a good,
subaltern, and I am very sure that Hands was an excellent
for we went about and about and dodged in, shaving the
with a certainty and a neatness that were a pleasure to
Scarcely had we passed the heads before the land closed
The shores of North Inlet were as thickly wooded as those
of the southern anchorage, but the space was longer and
and more like, what in truth it was, the estuary of a river.
Right before us, at the southern end, we saw the wreck
of a ship
in the last stages of dilapidation. It had been a great
vessel of three
masts but had lain so long exposed to the injuries of the
that it was hung about with great webs of dripping seaweed,
on the deck of it shore bushes had taken root and now flourished
thick with flowers. It was a sad sight, but it showed us
anchorage was calm.
"Now," said Hands, "look there; there's
a pet bit for to beach
a ship in. Fine flat sand, never a cat's paw, trees all
around of it,
and flowers a-blowing like a garding on that old ship."
"And once beached," I inquired, "how shall
we get her off again?"
"Why, so," he replied: "you take a line
ashore there on the other
side at low water, take a turn about one of them big pines;
bring it back, take a turn around the capstan, and lie
to for the tide.
Come high water, all hands take a pull upon the line,
and off she comes as sweet as natur'. And now, boy, you
We're near the bit now, and she's too much way on her.
Starboard a little--so--steady--starboard--larboard a little--
So he issued his commands, which I breathlessly obeyed,
till, all of a sudden, he cried, "Now, my hearty,
And I put the helm hard up, and the HISPANIOLA swung round
rapidly and ran stem on for the low, wooded shore.
The excitement of these last manoeuvres had somewhat
interfered with the watch I had kept hitherto, sharply
upon the coxswain. Even then I was still so much interested,
waiting for the ship to touch, that I had quite forgot
that hung over my head and stood craning over the starboard
bulwarks and watching the ripples spreading wide before
I might have fallen without a struggle for my life had
sudden disquietude seized upon me and made me turn my head.
Perhaps I had heard a creak or seen his shadow moving
with the tail of my eye; perhaps it was an instinct like
but, sure enough, when I looked round, there was Hands,
already half-way towards me, with the dirk in his right
We must both have cried out aloud when our eyes met,
but while mine was the shrill cry of terror, his was a
roar of fury
like a charging bully's. At the same instant, he threw
forward and I leapt sideways towards the bows. As I did
I let go of the tiller, which sprang sharp to leeward,
and I think this saved my life, for it struck Hands across
and stopped him, for the moment, dead.
Before he could recover, I was safe out of the corner
where he had me trapped, with all the deck to dodge about.
Just forward of the main-mast I stopped, drew a pistol
from my pocket, took a cool aim, though he had already
and was once more coming directly after me, and drew the
The hammer fell, but there followed neither flash nor sound;
the priming was useless with sea-water. I cursed myself
for my neglect. Why had not I, long before, reprimed and
my only weapons? Then I should not have been as now,
a mere fleeing sheep before this butcher.
Wounded as he was, it was wonderful how fast he could move,
his grizzled hair tumbling over his face, and his face
as red as a red ensign with his haste and fury. I had no
time to try
my other pistol, nor indeed much inclination, for I was
it would be useless. One thing I saw plainly: I must not
simply retreat before him, or he would speedily hold me
boxed into the bows, as a moment since he had so nearly
boxed me in the stern. Once so caught, and nine or ten
of the blood-stained dirk would be my last experience on
of eternity. I placed my palms against the main-mast, which
of a goodish bigness, and waited, every nerve upon the
Seeing that I meant to dodge, he also paused; and a moment
or two passed in feints on his part and corresponding movements
upon mine. It was such a game as I had often played at
about the rocks of Black Hill Cove, but never before,
you may be sure, with such a wildly beating heart as now.
Still, as I say, it was a boy's game, and I thought I could
hold my own at it against an elderly seaman with a wounded
Indeed my courage had begun to rise so high that I allowed
a few darting thoughts on what would be the end of the
and while I saw certainly that I could spin it out for
I saw no hope of any ultimate escape.
Well, while things stood thus, suddenly the HISPANIOLA
staggered, ground for an instant in the sand, and then,
swift as a blow, canted over to the port side till the
at an angle of forty-five degrees and about a puncheon
splashed into the scupper holes and lay, in a pool, between
deck and bulwark.
We were both of us capsized in a second, and both of us
almost together, into the scuppers, the dead red-cap, with
still spread out, tumbling stiffly after us. So near were
that my head came against the coxswain's foot with a crack
that made my teeth rattle. Blow and all, I was the first
for Hands had got involved with the dead body. The sudden
canting of the ship had made the deck no place for running
I had to find some new way of escape, and that upon the
for my foe was almost touching me. Quick as thought, I
into the mizzen shrouds, rattled up hand over hand, and
draw a breath till I was seated on the cross-trees.
I had been saved by being prompt; the dirk had struck
not half a foot below me as I pursued my upward flight;
and there stood Israel Hands with his mouth open and his
upturned to mine, a perfect statue of surprise and disappointment.
Now that I had a moment to myself, I lost no time in changing
the priming of my pistol, and then, having one ready for
and to make assurance doubly sure, I proceeded to draw
of the other and recharge it afresh from the beginning.
My new employment struck Hands all of a heap; he began
the dice going against him, and after an obvious hesitation,
he also hauled himself heavily into the shrouds, and with
in his teeth, began slowly and painfully to mount. It cost
no end of time and groans to haul his wounded leg behind
and I had quietly finished my arrangements before he was
more than a third of the way up. Then, with a pistol in
I addressed him.
"One more step, Mr. Hands," said I, "and
I'll blow your brains out!
Dead men don't bite, you know," I added with a chuckle.
He stopped instantly. I could see by the working of his
that he was trying to think, and the process was so slow
laborious that, in my new-found security, I laughed aloud.
At last, with a swallow or two, he spoke, his face still
the same expression of extreme perplexity. In order to
he had to take the dagger from his mouth, but in all else
he remained unmoved.
"Jim," says he, "I reckon we're fouled,
you and me, and we'll have
to sign articles. I'd have had you but for that there lurch,
but I don't have no luck, not I; and I reckon I'll have
which comes hard, you see, for a master mariner to a ship's
younker like you, Jim."
I was drinking in his words and smiling away, as conceited
a cock upon a wall, when, all in a breath, back went his
over his shoulder. Something sang like an arrow through
I felt a blow and then a sharp pang, and there I was pinned
by the shoulder to the mast. In the horrid pain and surprise
of the moment--I scarce can say it was by my own volition,
and I am sure it was without a conscious aim--both my pistols
went off, and both escaped out of my hands. They did not
alone; with a choked cry, the coxswain loosed his grasp
upon the shrouds and plunged head first into the water.
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