Treasure Island: Chapter XIV


Author: Jane Austen

Format: online reading

Category: Novel


Posted on 2007-05-11, updated at 2007-05-27. By anonymous.

Description

  • Author: Jane Austen

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 number 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 were flowering plants, unknown
to me; here and there I saw snakes, and one raised his head from a ledge of rock and
hissed at me with a noise not unlike the spinning of a top. Little did I suppose that he
was a deadly enemy, and that the noise was the famous rattle.



Then I came to a long thicket of these oak-like trees - live, or evergreen, oaks, I
heard afterwards they should be called - which grew low along the sand like brambles, the
boughs curiously twisted, the foliage compact, like thatch. The thicket stretched down
from the top of one of the sandy knolls, spreading and growing taller as it went, until it
reached the margin of the broad, reedy fen, through which the nearest of the little rivers
soaked its way into the anchorage. The marsh was steaming 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 bulrushes; a wild duck flew up
with a quack, another followed, and soon over the whole surface of the marsh a great cloud
of birds hung screaming and circling in the air. I judged at once that some of my
shipmates must be drawing near along the borders of the fen. Nor was I deceived; for soon
I hear the very distant and low tones of a human voice, which, I continued to give ear,
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 now recognised to be Silver's,
once more took up the store and ran on for a long while in a stream, only now and again
interrupted by the other. By the sound they must have bee talking earnestly, and almost
fiercely; but no distinct word came to my hearing.



At last the speakers seemed to have paused, and perhaps to have sat down; for not only
did they cease to draw an 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
them at their councils; and that my plain and obvious duty was to draw' as close as I
could manage, under the favourable ambush c the crouching trees.



I could tell the direction of the speakers pretty exactly, not only by the sound of
their voices, but by the behaviour of the few birds that still hung in alarm above the
heads of the intruders.



Crawling on all-fours, I made steadily but slowly toward them; till at last, raising my
head to an aperture among the leaves, I could see clear down into a little green dell
beside the marsh, and closely set about with trees, where Long John Silver and another of
the crew stood face to face in conversation.



The sun beat full upon them. Silver had thrown his ha beside him on the ground, and his
great, smooth, blond fact all shining with heat, was lifted to the other man's in a kin'
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 too to you like pitch, do you think I'd have been here a-warning
of you? 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 'ud I be, Tom - now, tell me, where 'ud I be?'



`Silver,' said the other man - and I observed he was not only red in the face, but
spoke as hoarse as a crow, and his voice shook, too, like a taut rope - Silver,' says he,
`you're old, and you're honest, or has the name for it; 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 of swabs? 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 same 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 it 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
had re-established its empire, and only the rustle of the redescending birds and the boom
of the distant surges disturbed the languor of the afternoon.



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 other. `It's a black conscience that
can make you feared of me. But, in heaven's name, tell me what was that?'



`That?' returned Silver, smiling away, but warier than ever, his eye a mere pin-point
in his big face, but gleaming like a crumb of glass. `That? Oh, I reckon that'll be Alan.'



And at this poor 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 mine, 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 tell. 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 his knife up to the hilt in that defenceless body. From my place of
ambush, 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 hill-top, 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 his head. Just before him Tom lay motionless upon the sward; but the
murderer minded him not a whit, cleansing his bloodstained 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, and I could scarce persuade myself that
murder had been actually done, and a human life cruelly cut short a moment since, before
my eyes.



But now John put his hand into his pocket, brought out a whistle, 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 hails
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
minding the direction of my flight, so long as it led me from the murderers; 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 boats 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 to them 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 like forest trees
in their bearing and dimensions. Mingled with these were a few scattered pines, some
fifty, some nearer seventy, feet high. The air, too, smelt more freshly than down beside
the marsh.



And here a fresh alarm brought me to a standstill with a thumping heart.


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More on This Book:
  1. Treasure Island: Chapter XXIX
  2. Treasure Island: Chapter XXVIII
  3. Treasure Island: Chapter XXVII
  4. Treasure Island: Chapter XXVI
  5. Treasure Island: Chapter XXV
  6. Treasure Island: Chapter XXIII
  7. Treasure Island: Chapter XXII
  8. Treasure Island: Chapter XXI
  9. Treasure Island: Chapter XX
  10. Treasure Island: Chapter XIX
  11. Treasure Island: Chapter XVIII
  12. Treasure Island: Chapter XVII
  13. Treasure Island: Chapter XVI
  14. Treasure Island: Chapter XV
  15. Treasure Island: Chapter XIII
  16. Treasure Island: Chapter XI
  17. Treasure Island: Chapter X
  18. Treasure Island: Chapter IX
  19. Treasure Island: Chapter VIII
  20. Treasure Island: Chapter VII
  21. Treasure Island: Chapter VI
  22. Treasure Island: Chapter V
  23. Treasure Island: Chapter IV
  24. Treasure Island: Chapter II
  25. Treasure Island: Chapter III
  26. Treasure Island: Chapter I
  27. Treasure Island: Chapter XII
  28. Treasure Island: Chapter XXIV

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Treasure Island: Chapter XIV

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