The Treasure-hunt — The Voice Among the Trees
PARTLY from the damping influence of this alarm, partly to rest Silver and the sick folk, the whole party sat down as soon as they had gained the brow of the ascent.
The plateau being somewhat tilted towards the west, this spot on which we had paused commanded a wide prospect on either hand. Before us, over the tree-tops, we beheld the Cape of the Woods fringed with surf; behind, we not only looked down upon the anchorage and Skeleton Island, but saw — clear across the spit and the eastern lowlands — a great field of open sea upon the east. Sheer above us rose the Spyglass, here dotted with single pines, there black with precipices. There was no sound but that of the distant breakers, mounting from all round, and the chirp of countless insects in the brush. Not a man, not a sail, upon the sea; the very largeness of the view increased the sense of solitude.
Silver, as he sat, took certain bearings with his compass.
"There are three 'tall trees'" said he, "about in the right line from Skeleton Island. 'Spy-glass shoulder,' I take it, means that lower p'int there. It's child's play to find the stuff now. I've half a mind to dine first."
"I don't feel sharp," growled Morgan. "Thinkin' o' Flint — I think it were — as done me."
"Ah, well, my son, you praise your stars he's dead," said Silver.
"He were an ugly devil," cried a third pirate with a shudder; "that blue in the face too!"
"That was how the rum took him," added Merry. "Blue! Well, I reckon he was blue. That's a true word."
Ever since they had found the skeleton and got upon this train of thought, they had spoken lower and lower, and they had almost got to whispering by now, so that the sound of their talk hardly interrupted the silence of the wood. All of a sudden, out of the middle of the trees in front of us, a thin, high, trembling voice struck up the well-known air and words:
"Fifteen men on the dead man's chest —
Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!"
I never have seen men more dreadfully affected than the pirates. The colour went from their six faces like enchantment; some leaped to their feet, some clawed hold of others; Morgan grovelled on the ground.
"It's Flint, by — — !" cried Merry.
The song had stopped as suddenly as it began — broken off, you would have said, in the middle of a note, as though someone had laid his hand upon the singer's mouth. Coming through the clear, sunny atmosphere among the green tree-tops, I thought it had sounded airily and sweetly; and the effect on my companions was the stranger.
"Come," said Silver, struggling with his ashen lips to get the word out; "this won't do. Stand by to go about. This is a rum start, and I can't name the voice, but it's someone skylarking — someone that's flesh and blood, and you may lay to that."
His courage had come back as he spoke, and some of the colour to his face along with it. Already the others had begun to lend an ear to this encouragement and were coming a little to themselves, when the same voice broke out again — not this time singing, but in a faint distant hail that echoed yet fainter among the clefts of the Spy-glass.
"Darby M'Graw," it wailed — for that is the word that best describes the sound — "Darby M'Graw! Darby M'Graw!" again and again and again; and then rising a little higher, and with an oath that I leave out: "Fetch aft the rum, Darby!"
The buccaneers remained rooted to the ground, their eyes starting from their heads. Long after the voice had died away they still stared in silence, dreadfully, before them.
"That fixes it!" gasped one. "Let's go."
"They was his last words," moaned Morgan, "his last words above board."
Dick had his Bible out and was praying volubly. He had been well brought up, had Dick, before he came to sea and fell among bad companions.
Still Silver was unconquered. I could hear his teeth rattle in his head, but he had not yet surrendered.
"Nobody in this here island ever heard of Darby," he muttered; "not one but us that's here." And then, making a great effort: "Shipmates," he cried, "I'm here to get that stuff, and I'll not be beat by man or devil. I never was feared of Flint in his life, and, by the powers, I'll face him dead. There's seven hundred thousand pound not a quarter of a mile from here. When did ever a gentleman o' fortune show his stern to that much dollars for a boozy old seaman with a blue mug — and him dead too?"
But there was no sign of reawakening courage in his followers, rather, indeed, of growing terror at the irreverence of his words.
"Belay there, John!" said Merry. "Don't you cross a sperrit."
And the rest were all too terrified to reply. They would have run away severally had they dared; but fear kept them together, and kept them close by John, as if his daring helped them. He, on his part, had pretty well fought his weakness down.
"Sperrit? Well, maybe," he said. "But there's one thing not clear to me. There was an echo. Now, no man ever seen a sperrit with a shadow; well then, what's he doing with an echo to him, I should like to know? That ain't in natur', surely?"
This argument seemed weak enough to me. But you can never tell what will affect the superstitious, and to my wonder, George Merry was greatly relieved.
"Well, that's so," he said. "You've a head upon your shoulders, John, and no mistake. 'Bout ship, mates! This here crew is on a wrong tack, I do believe. And come to think on it, it was like Flint's voice, I grant you, but not just so clear-away like it, after all. It was liker somebody else's voice now — it was liker — "
"By the powers, Ben Gunn!" roared Silver.
"Aye, and so it were," cried Morgan, springing on his knees. "Ben Gunn it were!"
"It don't make much odds, do it, now?" asked Dick. "Ben Gunn's not here in the body any more'n Flint."
But the older hands greeted this remark with scorn.
"Why, nobody minds Ben Gunn," cried Merry; "dead or alive, nobody minds him."
It was extraordinary how their spirits had returned and how the natural colour had revived in their faces. Soon they were chatting together, with intervals of listening; and not long after, hearing no further sound, they shouldered the tools and set forth again, Merry walking first with Silver's compass to keep them on the right line with Skeleton Island. He had said the truth: dead or alive, nobody minded Ben Gunn.