Copyright© 2012 by Robert Louis Stevenson
AS soon as Silver disappeared, the captain, who had been closely watching him, turned towards the interior of the house and found not a man of us at his post but Gray. It was the first time we had ever seen him angry.
"Quarters!" he roared. And then, as we all slunk back to our places,
"Gray," he said, "I'll put your name in the log; you've stood by your duty like a seaman. Mr. Trelawney, I'm surprised at you, sir. Doctor,
I thought you had worn the king's coat! If that was how you served at
Fontenoy, sir, you'd have been better in your berth."
The doctor's watch were all back at their loopholes, the rest were busy loading the spare muskets, and everyone with a red face, you may be certain, and a flea in his ear, as the saying is.
The captain looked on for a while in silence. Then he spoke.
"My lads," said he, "I've given Silver a broadside. I pitched it in red-hot on purpose; and before the hour's out, as he said, we shall be boarded. We're outnumbered, I needn't tell you that, but we fight in shelter; and a minute ago I should have said we fought with discipline.
I've no manner of doubt that we can drub them, if you choose."
Then he went the rounds and saw, as he said, that all was clear.
On the two short sides of the house, east and west, there were only two loopholes; on the south side where the porch was, two again; and on the north side, five. There was a round score of muskets for the seven of us; the firewood had been built into four piles--tables, you might say--one about the middle of each side, and on each of these tables some ammunition and four loaded muskets were laid ready to the hand of the defenders. In the middle, the cutlasses lay ranged.
"Toss out the fire," said the captain; "the chill is past, and we mustn't have smoke in our eyes."
The iron fire-basket was carried bodily out by Mr. Trelawney, and the embers smothered among sand.
"Hawkins hasn't had his breakfast. Hawkins, help yourself, and back to your post to eat it," continued Captain Smollett. "Lively, now, my lad; you'll want it before you've done. Hunter, serve out a round of brandy to all hands."
And while this was going on, the captain completed, in his own mind, the plan of the defence.
"Doctor, you will take the door," he resumed. "See, and don't expose yourself; keep within, and fire through the porch. Hunter, take the east side, there. Joyce, you stand by the west, my man. Mr. Trelawney, you are the best shot--you and Gray will take this long north side, with the five loopholes; it's there the danger is. If they can get up to it and fire in upon us through our own ports, things would begin to look dirty.
Hawkins, neither you nor I are much account at the shooting; we'll stand by to load and bear a hand."
As the captain had said, the chill was past. As soon as the sun had climbed above our girdle of trees, it fell with all its force upon the clearing and drank up the vapours at a draught. Soon the sand was baking and the resin melting in the logs of the block house. Jackets and coats were flung aside, shirts thrown open at the neck and rolled up to the shoulders; and we stood there, each at his post, in a fever of heat and anxiety.
An hour passed away.
"Hang them!" said the captain. "This is as dull as the doldrums. Gray, whistle for a wind."
And just at that moment came the first news of the attack.
"If you please, sir," said Joyce, "if I see anyone, am I to fire?"
"I told you so!" cried the captain.
"Thank you, sir," returned Joyce with the same quiet civility.
Nothing followed for a time, but the remark had set us all on the alert, straining ears and eyes--the musketeers with their pieces balanced in their hands, the captain out in the middle of the block house with his mouth very tight and a frown on his face.
So some seconds passed, till suddenly Joyce whipped up his musket and fired. The report had scarcely died away ere it was repeated and repeated from without in a scattering volley, shot behind shot, like a string of geese, from every side of the enclosure. Several bullets struck the log-house, but not one entered; and as the smoke cleared away and vanished, the stockade and the woods around it looked as quiet and empty as before. Not a bough waved, not the gleam of a musket-barrel betrayed the presence of our foes.
"Did you hit your man?" asked the captain.
"No, sir," replied Joyce. "I believe not, sir."
"Next best thing to tell the truth," muttered Captain Smollett. "Load his gun, Hawkins. How many should say there were on your side, doctor?"
"I know precisely," said Dr. Livesey. "Three shots were fired on this side. I saw the three flashes--two close together--one farther to the west."
"Three!" repeated the captain. "And how many on yours, Mr. Trelawney?"
But this was not so easily answered. There had come many from the north--seven by the squire's computation, eight or nine according to
Gray. From the east and west only a single shot had been fired. It was plain, therefore, that the attack would be developed from the north and that on the other three sides we were only to be annoyed by a show of hostilities. But Captain Smollett made no change in his arrangements. If the mutineers succeeded in crossing the stockade, he argued, they would take possession of any unprotected loophole and shoot us down like rats in our own stronghold.
Nor had we much time left to us for thought. Suddenly, with a loud huzza, a little cloud of pirates leaped from the woods on the north side and ran straight on the stockade. At the same moment, the fire was once more opened from the woods, and a rifle ball sang through the doorway and knocked the doctor's musket into bits.
The boarders swarmed over the fence like monkeys. Squire and Gray fired again and yet again; three men fell, one forwards into the enclosure, two back on the outside. But of these, one was evidently more frightened than hurt, for he was on his feet again in a crack and instantly disappeared among the trees.
Two had bit the dust, one had fled, four had made good their footing inside our defences, while from the shelter of the woods seven or eight men, each evidently supplied with several muskets, kept up a hot though useless fire on the log-house.