Charles Dickens.

Charles Dickens' complete works online

. (page 81 of 84)
Online LibraryCharles DickensCharles Dickens' complete works → online text (page 81 of 84)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

•* I will follow 3'our advice to the letter, Dads,'* sajs he;

My answer was, *' I think, sir, I would recommend jou
next, to order down such heavy furniture and lumber as can
be moved, and make a barricade within the gate."

*♦ That's gooih again/' says he : '^ will you see it done? "

*' I 'II willingly help to do it," saj's I, ** unless or until my
superior, Sergeant Di-ooee, gives me other orders."

He shook roe by the hand, and, having toM off some of his
companions to help me, bestirred himsejif to look to the arms
and ammunition. A pi'oper, quick, brave, steady, ready
gentleman !

One of their three littie children was deaf and dumb. Miss
Marron had been fnnn the first with aU the children, sootliing
them and dressing them (i>ooi' little tilings, they had been
brought out of their beds), and making them l>elieve that it
was a game of play, so that scnne of them were now even

Digitized by




laughing. I had been working hard with the others at the
barricade, and had got up a pretty good breastwork within
the gate. Drooce and the seven had oome back, bringiiig in
the people fVom 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 bus}*. The breastwork was now finished, and
I found Miss Marion at my side, with a child in her arras.
Her dark hair was fastened round her head with a band. She
had a quantity of it, and it looked even richer and more pre-
cious, put up hastily out of her way, than I had seen it look
when it was carefblly arranged. She was very pale, but ex-
traordinarily quiet and still.

'^Dear, good Davis," said she, ^^I have been waiting to
Bpesik one word to 30U."

I turned to her directly. If I had received a musket-ball
in the heait, and she had stood there, I almost believe I
should have turned to her before I dropped.

^^This pretty little creature," saiil she, kissing tlie diiid in
her arms, who was playing with her hair and trying to pull it
down, *' cannot hear what we say — can hear notliing. I trust
you so much, and have such great confidence in yoa, that I
want you to make me a promise."

''What is it. Miss?"

'* That if we ai-e 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 most 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, liv-
ing, 3'ou will save me, dead. Tell me so."

Well ! I told her I wouW 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 ha^l the strength of half a dozea
in me, fix>m that moment, until the fight was over.

Digitized by



All this timet Mr. CommissioDer Pordage had been wanting
to make a Proclamation to the Pirates to laj' down their arms
and go away ; and everybody had been hustling him abont
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 hiyers one inside another, as if it
was a white vegetable of the artichoke sort), and she would n*t
take the nightcap off, and would be angry when it got crushed
b}' 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 aston-
ishment, little Mrs. Fisher, that I had taken for a doll and a
baby, was not only very active in that senice, but volun-
teered to load the spare arms.

** For, I understand it well," says she, cheerfully, without
a shake in her voice.

" I am a soldiei-'s daughter and a sailor's sister, and I
andei-stand 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, hammer-
ing the flints, looking to tlie locks, and quietly directing othera
to imss up powder ami bullets from hand to hand, as unflinch-
ing as the best of tiied soldiers.

Sergeant Drooce had brought in word that the pirates were
veiy strong in numbers — over a hundred was his estimate —
and that they were not, even tlien, all landed ; for, he had
seen them in a very good position on tiie further side of the

Digitized by



Signal Hill, evidently waiting for the rest of their men to
come up. In the present paase, the first we had had since
the alarm, he was telling this orer agahi to Mr. Maoev, when
Mr. Macey suddenly cried ont : ^^ The Signal ! Nobod}* has
thought of the signal 1 "

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 ^i^xxt upon the Signal HiD. If it ooold
be lighted — which never has lieen done yet -*- it woold be a
signal of distress to (he mainland."

Charker cries directly : **• Sergeant Droooe, despatch nie on
tluit dnty. Give me the two men who were on guard with me
to-night, and I '11 light the fire, if it caa be done."

** And if it can% Corporal " Mr. Macey strikes m.

'^ Look at these ladies and children, sir ! " says Cbariccr.
♦'I'd sooner light mysil/^ than not try any chance to save

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 Imndle 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 maga-
zine and every grain of powder was spoiled !

'* Stay a moment," said Sei*geant DixKKje, when I had
told him, without causing a mm^ement in a muscle of his face :
'' look to your i)ouch, my lad. You Tom Packer, look to your
pouch, confound you ! Look at 3'Our pouches, all \-oa Ma-

The same artful savage had got at them, somehow or an-
other, and the cartridges were all unserviceable. ** Hum ! *
says the sergeant. '* Look to 3*our loading, men. You are
right so fui*."

Digitized by



Yes ; we were right so far.

" Well, my lads, and gentlemen all," saj's 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 nil stood quiet,
for a matter of something like halfan-hour. I took notice
Arom 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, thongltt 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 b}- about a dozen.

** Sally ! Gate-party, under Gill Davis," says the Ser-
geant, *' 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, holdinguphis 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 blackene<l with the running pitch from a

He made no complaint of pain, or of an5'thing. " 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 heli)ed to lay his poor body on one side, I went
back to my post. Sergeant Drooce looked at me, with his
eyelM'ows a little lifted. I nodded. *' Close up here, men, and
gentlemen all ! " said the Sergeant. "A place too man3', in
the line."

The Pirates were so close upon us at this time, that the fore-
most of them were ali-eady before the gate. More and more

Digitized by



came up with a great noise, and shouting loudly. When we
believed from the sound that the}' 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 en-
joyed the noise, and were heard clapping their hands in the
silence that followed.

Our disposition was this, b^inning with the rear. Mrs.
Venning, holding her daughter's child in her arms, sat on the
steps of the little square trench surrounding the ulver-house,
encouraging and directing those women and eliildren as she
might have done in the happiest and easiest time of her Ufe.
Tlien 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 8uri)rise. Then there was a
space of eight or ten feet deep, in which the spare arms were,
and in which Miss Mar3'on and Mrs. Fisher, their hands
and dresses blackened with the spoiled gtmpowder, 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 mode, with a zigzag way
through it for mc and my little i^irt}' to hold good in retreatang,
as long as we could, when we were driven from the gate. We
all knew that it was im[)ossible to hold the place long, ami
that our only hope was in the timely- discover)' of the plot by
the boats, and in their coming back.

I and my men were now thrown forward to the gate. Froa
a spy-hole I could see the whole cix)wd of l^irates. There
were Malays among them, Dutch, Maltese, Greeks, Sambos,
]N'egroes, and convict Englishmen from the West India
Islands ; among the last, him with the one eye and the patch
acix>ss 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

Digitized by




great bright shawl twisted aboat his shoulders. Tliej* were all
strongly armed, but like a boarding part}', with pikes, swords,
cntlasses, and axes. I noticed a good man}' pistols, but not
a gun of any kind among them. This gave me to under-
stand that they had considered that a continued roll of mus-
ketry 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 favorite wa3S of earning 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 soit of wild Portuguese demon, who seemed either fieree-
mad, or fierce-drunk — but, they all seemed one or the other
— came forward witli 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 did n't understand, and when he sai<l it, the one-eyed
English rascal with the patch (who had stepped out when he
began) said it again in English. It was onl}' this. '^ Boys
of the black flag, this is to be quickly done. Take all tlie
prisoners you can. If the}- don't yield, kill the children to
make them. Forward ! " Then they all came on at the gate,
and, in another half-*minnte were smashing and splitting it in.

We struck at them through the gaps and shivers, and we
dropped man}- of them, too ; but their very weight would have
carried such a gate, if they hod been unarmed. I soon found
Sergeant Drooce at my side, foiTQing us six remaining ma-
rines in line — Tom Packer next to me — and ordenng us to
fail back three paces, ami, as the}' broke in, to give them
our one little volley at short distance. " Then," sa}'8 he,
** receive them beliind your breastwork on the bayonet, and at
least let ever}' man of you pin one of the cursed cockchafers
tbrongh the body."

Digitized by



We checked them by oar 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,

We clubbed our muskets and laid about us ; even then,
those two ladies — alwa3's 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, sliould haxe got m^* 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 destrojed 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 sodi
things with it, that thei*e was a cry in half a dozen lai^uages,
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
shoukl have known nothing of it, except supposing that some-
body had struck me a smail lik)w, if I had not felt weak, and
seen myself covered with spouting blood, and, at the sasie
instant of time, seen Miss Ma^yon tearing her dress and
binding it with Mrs. Fisher's help round the wound. They
called to Tom Packer, who was scouring by, to stc^ and
guard me for one minute, while I was bound, or I should
bleed to death in tiding to defend myself. Tom stopped
directly, wHh 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 bowl-
ing at Sei'geant Dmoce. TIk» Sei-geant, stepping badt against
the wall, stopped one howl foi* ever with such a terrible bk>w,
and waited for the rest to eome on, with such a woodeHUIj'
unmoved Dide, that tliey stoyiped and looked at him.

''See him now?" cried Tom Packer. ''Kow, wheal

Digitized by



eoald ciit him out! Gill! Did I tell you to mark my
woitls ? "

I implore 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 waveiing.
"Still he is a brave man." Then he calls out, "Sergeant
Drooce, Sergeant Drooce ! Tell me 3'ou have driven me too
hard, and are sorry for it."

The Sergeant, without tuniing his e3'es from his assailants,
which would have been instant death to him, answers :

"No. I won't."

' ' Sei^eant Drooce ! " cries Tom, in a kind of an agony. " I
have passed my word that I would never save 3'ou 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 noth-

One of the group laid the Sei'geant's bald bare head open.
The Sergeant laid him dead.

" I tellj'ou," says the Sei^eant, 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
kelp, and because of nothing else, I '11 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 fl3ing, and came over to where I was beginning to feel,
with inexpressible joy, that I had got a swoixl 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 ^Irs. Fisher's eyes. I looked towaixls the
silver-house, and saw Mi's. Venning — standing upright on
Uie top of the steps of the trench, with her gi^a}* hair and her
dai'k eyes — hide her daughtei*'s child behind her, among the
folds of her dress, strike a pirate with her other hand, and
fall, shot by his pistol.

Digitized by




The cry arose again, and there was a terrible and confheing
nish 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," sajs he, *' Christian Greorge King sar
berr}' glad So-Jeer a prisoner. Chnstian George King been
waiting for So-Jeer sech long time. Yup, yup ! "

What could I do, with five-and-twenty of them on me, bat
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 jxmi
had slept sounder, last night, you'd have slept your soundest
last night, my determined man."

The Portuguese Captain langhed in a cool way, and with
the flat of his cutlass, hit mc 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 la^- 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 l^ing about all over the place,
and tlie Pirates were burying their dead, and taking away
their wounded on hastil^'-made litters, to the back of the
Island. As for us prisoners, some of their boats had come
round to the usual harbor, to cairy 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

Digitized by



The Portuguese Captain had all the women already em-
harked in the hoat he himself commanded, which was just
putting off when I got down. Miss Marvon sat on one side
of him, and gave me a moment's look, as full of quiet cour-
age, 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 part}'
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.

[The second chapter, which was not written by Mr. Dick-
ons, describes the Prisoners (twent3'-two women and children)
taken into the interior bj' the Pirate Captain, who makes them
the material guarantee for the precious metal and jewels left
on the island ; declaring that, if the latter be wrested by Eng-
lish ships from the pirates in charge, he will murder the cap-
tives. From their *' Prison in the Woods," however (this be-
ing the title of the second chapter), they escape by means of
rafls down the river ; and the sequel is told in a third and con-
cluding chapter by Mi*. Dickens.]

Digitized by





We oontrivecl to keep afloat all Uiat night, and the stream
running strong with as, to glide a long way down the river.
But, we found the night to be a dangerous time for such nav-
igation, on account of the eddies and rapids, and it was
therefore settled next day that in future we would bring-
to at sunset, and encamp on the shore. As we knew of no
boats that the Pirates [>ossessed, up at the Prison in the
Woods, we settled always to encamp on the opposite side of
the stream, so as to have the breadth of the river between
our sleep and them. Our opinion was, that if they were ac-
quainted with any neai* way by land to the mouth of this
river, they would come up it in force, and retake us or kill us,
according as the}' could ; but that if that was not the case,
and if the river ran by none of their secret stations, we
might escape.

When I say we settled this or that, I do not mean that we
planne<l an3'thing with any confidence as to what might happen
an hour hence. SSo much had happened in one night, and such
great changes had been violently and suddenly made in the
fbitunes of many among us, that we had got better used to
uncertainty, in a little while, than I dare saj* most iJeople do
in the course of tlieir lives.

The difficulties we soon got into, thi-ough the off-settings
and point-cuiTents of the stream., made the likelihood of our
being drowned, alone — to say nothing of our being retaken
— as broad and plain as the sun at noonday to all of us.
But, we all worked haitl at managing the rafts, under the
direction of the seamen (of our own skill, I think we never
could have prevented them from overeetting) , and we also
worked hard at making good the defects in their first hasty
construction — which the water soon found out. While we

Digitized by



haihhly resigned ourselves to goii^ down, if it was the will of
Our Father that was in Heaven, we humbly made up our
minds, that we would all do the best that was in us.

And so we held on, gliding with the stream. It drove us to
this bank, and it drove us to that bank, and it turned us, and
whirled us : but yet it carried us on. Sometimes much too
slowl}' ; sometimes much too fast, but yet it canned us on.

M}' little deaf and dumb bo^' slumbered a good deal
now, and that was the case with all the diildren. They
caused verj- little trouble to any one. They seemed, in my
ej'es, to get more like one another, not only in quiet manner,
but in the face, too. The motion of the raft was usually so
much the same, tlie sea was usually so much the same, the
sound of tlio soft wash and ripple of the water was usually so
much the same, that they were made drowsy, as they might
have been by the constant playing of one tune. P>en on
the gvown people, who worked hard and felt anxiety, the
same things produced something of the same ctfcct. Every
day was so like the other, that I soon lost count of the days,
myself, and had to ask Miss Maryon, for instance, whether
this was the third or fourth? Miss Maryon had a ixK'ket-lx)ok
and pencil, and she kept the log ; that is to say, she entered
up a clear little journal of tlie time, and of the distances our
seamen thought we had made, each night.

So, as I say, we kept afloat and glided on. All day long,
and every da}', the water, and the woods, and sky ; all day
long, and every day, the constant watching of botli sides of
the river, and far ahead at ever}' bold tiu*n and sweep it
made, for any signs of Pirate-boats, or Pirate-dwellings. So,

Online LibraryCharles DickensCharles Dickens' complete works → online text (page 81 of 84)