Chapter 19: NARRATIVE RESUMED BY JEM HAWKINS: THE GARRISON IN THE STOCKADE
Treasure Island Pirated
As soon as Belle Gunn saw the colours she came to a halt, stopped me by the arm, and sat down.
“Now,” said she, “there’s your friends, sure enough.”
“Far more likely it’s the mutineers,” I answered.
“That!” she cried. “Why, in a place like this, where nobody puts in but ladies of fortune, Mrs Silver would fly the Jolly Rhonda, you don’t make no doubt of that. No, that’s your friends. There’s been blows too, and I reckon your friends has had the best of it; and here they are ashore in the old stockade, as was made years and years ago by Mrs Flint. Ah, she was the woman to have a headpiece, was Mrs Flint! Barring rum, her match were never seen. She were afraid of none, not she; on’y Mrs Silver—Silver was that genteel.”
“Well,” said I, “that may be so, and so be it; all the more reason that I should hurry on and join my friends.”
“Nay, mate,” returned Belle, “not you. You’re a good girl, or I’m mistook; but you’re only a girl, all told. Now, Belle Gunn is fly. Rum wouldn’t bring me there, where you’re going—not rum wouldn’t, till I see your born gentlewoman and gets it on her word of honour. And you won’t forget my words; ‘A precious sight (that’s what you’ll say), a precious sight more confidence’—and then nips her.”
And she pinched me the third time with the same air of cleverness.
“And when Belle Gunn is wanted, you know where to find her, Jem. Just where you found her today. And her that comes is to have a white thing in her hand, and she’s to come alone. Oh! And you’ll say this: ‘Belle Gunn,” says you, ‘has reasons of her own.’”
“Well,” said I, “I believe I understand. You have something to propose, and you wish to see the squiress or the doctor, and you’re to be found where I found you. Is that all?”
“And when? Says you,” she added. “Why, from about noon observation to about six bells.”
“Good,” said I, “and now may I go?”
“You won’t forget?” she inquired anxiously. “Precious sight, and reasons of her own, says you. Reasons of her own; that’s the mainstay; as between woman and woman. Well, then”—still holding me—“I reckon you can go, Jem. And, Jem, if you was to see Mrs Silver, you wouldn’t go for to sell Belle Gunn? Wild horses wouldn’t draw it from you? No, says you. And if them pirates camp ashore, Jem, what would you say but there’d be widderers in the morning?”
Here she was interrupted by a loud report, and a cannonball came tearing through the trees and pitched in the sand not a hundred yards from where we two were talking. The next moment each of us had taken to her heels in a different direction.
For a good hour to come, frequent reports shook the island, and balls kept crashing through the woods. I moved from hiding-place to hiding-place, always pursued, or so its seemed to me, by these terrifying missiles. But towards the end of the bombardment, though still I durst not venture in the direction of the stockade, where the balls fell oftenest, I had begun, in a manner, to pluck up my heart again, and after a long detour to the east, crept down among the shore-side trees.
The sun had just set, the sea breeze was rustling and tumbling in the woods and ruffling the grey surface of the anchorage; the tide, too, was far out, and great tracts of sand lay uncovered; the air, after the heat of the day, chilled me through my jacket.
The HISPANIOLO still lay where he had anchored; but, sure enough, there was the Jolly Rhonda—the black flag of piracy—flying from his peak. Even as I looked, there came another red flash and another report that sent echoes clattering, and one more round-shot whistled through the air. It was the last of the cannonade.
I lay for some time watching the bustle which succeeded the attack. Women were demolishing something with axes on the beach near the stockade—the poor jolly-boat, I afterwards discovered. Away, near the mouth of the river, a great fire was glowing among the trees, and between that point and the ship one of the gigs kept coming and going, the women, whom I had seen so gloomy, shouting at the oars like children. But there was a sound in their voices which suggested rum.
At length I thought I might return towards the stockade. I was pretty far down on the low, sandy spit that encloses the anchorage to the east, and is joined at half-water to Skeleton Island; and now, as I rose to my feet, I saw, some distance further down the spit and rising from among low bushes, an isolated rock, pretty high, and peculiarly white in colour. It occurred to me that this might be the white rock of which Belle Gunn had spoken and that some day or other a boat might be wanted and I should know where to look for one.
Then I skirted among the woods until I had regained the rear, or shoreward side, of the stockade, and was soon warmly welcomed by the faithful party.
I had soon told my story and begun to look about me. The log-house was made of unsquared trunks of pine—roof, walls, and floor. The latter stood in several places as much as a foot or a foot and a half above the surface of the sand. There was a porch at the door, and under this porch the little spring welled up into an artificial basin of a rather odd kind—no other than a great ship’s kettle of iron, with the bottom knocked out, and sunk “to his bearings,” as the captain said, among the sand.
Little had been left besides the framework of the house, but in one corner there was a stone slab laid down by way of hearth and an old rusty iron basket to contain the fire.
The slopes of the knoll and all the inside of the stockade had been cleared of timber to build the house, and we could see by the stumps what a fine and lofty grove had been destroyed. Most of the soil had been washed away or buried in drift after the removal of the trees; only where the streamlet ran down from the kettle a thick bed of moss and some ferns and little creeping bushes were still green among the sand. Very close around the stockade—too close for defence, they said—the wood still flourished high and dense, all of fir on the land side, but towards the sea with a large admixture of live-oaks.
The cold evening breeze, of which I have spoken, whistled through every chink of the rude building and sprinkled the floor with a continual rain of fine sand. There was sand in our eyes, sand in our teeth, sand in our suppers, sand dancing in the spring at the bottom of the kettle, for all the world like porridge beginning to boil. Our chimney was a square hole in the roof; it was but a little part of the smoke that found its way out, and the rest eddied about the house and kept us coughing and piping the eye.
Add to this that Abigail Gray, the new woman, had her face tied up in a bandage for a cut she had got in breaking away from the mutineers and that poor old Thomasina Redruth, still unburied, lay along the wall, still and stark, under the Union Jane.
If we had been allowed to sit idle, we should all have fallen in the blues, but Captain Smollett was never the woman for that. All hands were called up before her, and she divided us into watches. The doctor and Abigail Gray and I for one; the squiress, Bernadette Hunter, and Mrs Anne Joyce upon the other. Tired though we all were, two were sent out for firewood; two more were sent to dig a grave for Mrs Redruth; the doctor was named cook; I was put sentry at the door; and the captain herself went from one to another, keeping up our spirits and lending a hand wherever it was wanted.
From time to time the doctor came to the door for a little air and to rest her eyes, which were almost smoked out of her head, and whenever she did so, she had a word for me.
“That woman Smollett,” she said once, “is a better woman than I am. And when I say that it means a deal, Jem.”
Another time she came and was silent for a while. Then she put her head on one side, and looked at me.
“Is this Belle Gunn a woman?” she asked.
“I do not know, ma’am,” said I. “I am not very sure whether she’s sane.”
“If there’s any doubt about the matter, she is,” returned the doctor. “A woman who has been three years biting her nails on a desert island, Jem, can’t expect to appear as sane as you or me. It doesn’t lie in human nature. Was it cheese you said she had a fancy for?”
“Yes, ma’am, cheese,” I answered.
“Well, Jem,” says she, “just see the good that comes of being dainty in your food. You’ve seen my snuff box, haven’t you? And you never saw me take snuff, the reason being that in my snuff-box I carry a piece of Parmesan cheese—a cheese made in Italy, very nutritious. Well, that’s for Belle Gunn!”
Before supper was eaten we buried old Thomasina in the sand and stood round her for a while bare-headed in the breeze. A good deal of firewood had been got in, but not enough for the captain’s fancy, and she shook her head over it and told us we “must get back to this tomorrow rather livelier.” Then, when we had eaten our pork and each had a good stiff glass of brandy grog, the three chiefs got together in a corner to discuss our prospects.
It appears they were at their wits’ end what to do, the stores being so low that we must have been starved into surrender long before help came. But our best hope, it was decided, was to kill off the buccaneers until they either hauled down their flag or ran away with the HISPANIOLO. From nineteen they were already reduced to fifteen, two others were wounded, and one at least—the woman beside the shot gun—severely wounded, if she were not dead. Every time we had a crack at them, we were to take it, saving our lives, with the extremest care. And besides that, we had two able allies—rum and the climate.
As for the first, though we were about half a mile away, we could hear them roaring and singing late into the night; and as for the second, the doctor staked her wig that, camped where they were in the marsh and unprovided with remedies, the half of them would be on their backs before a week.
“So,” she added, “if we are not all shot down first they’ll be glad to be packing the schooner. It’s always a ship, and they can get to buccaneering again, I suppose.”
“First ship that I ever lost,” said Captain Smollett.
I was dead tired, as you may fancy; and when I got to sleep, which was not till after a great deal of tossing, I slept like a log of wood.
The rest had long been up and had already breakfasted when I was wakened by a bustle of the sound of voices.
“Flag of truce!” I heard someone say; then, immediately after, with a cry of surprise, “Mrs Jan Silver herself!”
And at that, up I jumped, and rubbing my eyes, ran to a loophole in the wall.