IT was not very long after this that there occurred the first of the mysterious events that rid us at last of the captain, though not, as you will see, of his affairs. It was a bitter cold winter, with long, hard frosts and heavy gales; and it was plain from the first that my poor father was little likely to see the spring. He sank daily, and my mother and I had all the inn upon our hands, and were kept busy enough without paying much regard to our unpleasant guest.
It was one January morning, very early—a pinching, frosty morning—the cove all grey with hoar-frost, the ripple lapping softly on the stones, the sun still low and only touching the hilltops and shining far to seaward. The captain had risen earlier than usual and set out down the beach, his cutlass swinging under the broad skirts of the old blue coat, his brass telescope under his arm, his hat tilted back upon his head. I remember his breath hanging like smoke in his wake as he strode off, and the last sound I heard of him as he turned the big rock was a loud snort of indignation, as though his mind was still running upon Dr. Livesey.
Well, mother was upstairs with father and I was laying the breakfast-table against the captain’s return when the parlour door opened and a man stepped in on whom I had never set my eyes before. He was a pale, tallowy creature, wanting two fingers of the left hand, and though he wore a cutlass, he did not look much like a fighter. I had always my eye open for seafaring men, with one leg or two, and I remember this one puzzled me. He was not sailorly, and yet he had a smack of the sea about him too.
I asked him what was for his service, and he said he would take rum; but as I was going out of the room to fetch it, he sat down upon a table and motioned me to draw near. I paused where I was, with my napkin in my hand.
“Come here, sonny,” says he. “Come nearer here.”
I took a step nearer.
“Is this here table for my mate Bill?” he asked with a kind of leer.
I told him I did not know his mate Bill, and this was for a person who stayed in our house whom we called the captain.
“Well,” said he, “my mate Bill would be called the captain, as like as not. He has a cut on one cheek and a mighty pleasant way with him, particularly in drink, has my mate Bill. We’ll put it, for argument like, that your captain has a cut on one cheek—and we’ll put it, if you like, that that cheek’s the right one. Ah, well! I told you. Now, is my mate Bill in this here house?”
I told him he was out walking.
“Which way, sonny? Which way is he gone?”
And when I had pointed out the rock and told him how the captain was likely to return, and how soon, and answered a few other questions, “Ah,” said he, “this’ll be as good as drink to my mate Bill.”
The expression of his face as he said these words was not at all pleasant, and I had my own reasons for thinking that the stranger was mistaken, even supposing he meant what he said. But it was no affair of mine, I thought; and besides, it was difficult to know what to do. The stranger kept hanging about just inside the inn door, peering round the corner like a cat waiting for a mouse. Once I stepped out myself into the road, but he immediately called me back, and as I did not obey quick enough for his fancy, a most horrible change came over his tallowy face, and he ordered me in with an oath that made me jump. As soon as I was back again he returned to his former manner, half fawning, half sneering, patted me on the shoulder, told me I was a good boy and he had taken quite a fancy to me. “I have a son of my own,” said he, “as like you as two blocks, and he’s all the pride of my ‘art. But the great thing for boys is discipline, sonny—discipline. Now, if you had sailed along of Bill, you wouldn’t have stood there to be spoke to twice—not you. That was never Bill’s way, nor the way of sich as sailed with him. And here, sure enough, is my mate Bill, with a spy-glass under his arm, bless his old ‘art, to be sure. You and me’ll just go back into the parlour, sonny, and get behind the door, and we’ll give Bill a little surprise—bless his ‘art, I say again.”
So saying, the stranger backed along with me into the parlour and put me behind him in the corner so that we were both hidden by the open door. I was very uneasy and alarmed, as you may fancy, and it rather added to my fears to observe that the stranger was certainly frightened himself. He cleared the hilt of his cutlass and loosened the blade in the sheath; and all the time we were waiting there he kept swallowing as if he felt what we used to call a lump in the throat.
At last in strode the captain, slammed the door behind him, without looking to the right or left, and marched straight across the room to where his breakfast awaited him.
“Bill,” said the stranger in a voice that I thought he had tried to make bold and big.
The captain spun round on his heel and fronted us; all the brown had gone out of his face, and even his nose was blue; he had the look of a man who sees a ghost, or the evil one, or something worse, if anything can be; and upon my word, I felt sorry to see him all in a moment turn so old and sick.
“Come, Bill, you know me; you know an old shipmate, Bill, surely,” said the stranger.
The captain made a sort of gasp.
“Black Dog!” said he.
“And who else?” returned the other, getting more at his ease. “Black Dog as ever was, come for to see his old shipmate Billy, at the Admiral Benbow inn. Ah, Bill, Bill, we have seen a sight of times, us two, since I lost them two talons,” holding up his mutilated hand.
“Now, look here,” said the captain; “you’ve run me down; here I am; well, then, speak up; what is it?”
“That’s you, Bill,” returned Black Dog, “you’re in the right of it, Billy. I’ll have a glass of rum from this dear child here, as I’ve took such a liking to; and we’ll sit down, if you please, and talk square, like old shipmates.”
When I returned with the rum, they were already seated on either side of the captain’s breakfast-table—Black Dog next to the door and sitting sideways so as to have one eye on his old shipmate and one, as I thought, on his retreat.
He bade me go and leave the door wide open. “None of your keyholes for me, sonny,” he said; and I left them together and retired into the bar.
For a long time, though I certainly did my best to listen, I could hear nothing but a low gattling; but at last the voices began to grow higher, and I could pick up a word or two, mostly oaths, from the captain.
“No, no, no, no; and an end of it!” he cried once. And again, “If it comes to swinging, swing all, say I.”
Then all of a sudden there was a tremendous explosion of oaths and other noises—the chair and table went over in a lump, a clash of steel followed, and then a cry of pain, and the next instant I saw Black Dog in full flight, and the captain hotly pursuing, both with drawn cutlasses, and the former streaming blood from the left shoulder. Just at the door the captain aimed at the fugitive one last tremendous cut, which would certainly have split him to the chine had it not been intercepted by our big signboard of Admiral Benbow. You may see the notch on the lower side of the frame to this day.
That blow was the last of the battle. Once out upon the road, Black Dog, in spite of his wound, showed a wonderful clean pair of heels and disappeared over the edge of the hill in half a minute. The captain, for his part, stood staring at the signboard like a bewildered man. Then he passed his hand over his eyes several times and at last turned back into the house.
“Jim,” says he, “rum”; and as he spoke, he reeled a little, and caught himself with one hand against the wall.
“Are you hurt?” cried I.
“Rum,” he repeated. “I must get away from here. Rum! Rum!”
I ran to fetch it, but I was quite unsteadied by all that had fallen out, and I broke one glass and fouled the tap, and while I was still getting in my own way, I heard a loud fall in the parlour, and running in, beheld the captain lying full length upon the floor. At the same instant my mother, alarmed by the cries and fighting, came running downstairs to help me. Between us we raised his head. He was breathing very loud and hard, but his eyes were closed and his face a horrible colour.
“Dear, deary me,” cried my mother, “what a disgrace upon the house! And your poor father sick!”
In the meantime, we had no idea what to do to help the captain, nor any other thought but that he had got his death-hurt in the scuffle with the stranger. I got the rum, to be sure, and tried to put it down his throat, but his teeth were tightly shut and his jaws as strong as iron. It was a happy relief for us when the door opened and Doctor Livesey came in, on his visit to my father.
“Oh, doctor,” we cried, “what shall we do? Where is he wounded?”
“Wounded? A fiddle-stick’s end!” said the doctor. “No more wounded than you or I. The man has had a stroke, as I warned him. Now, Mrs. Hawkins, just you run upstairs to your husband and tell him, if possible, nothing about it. For my part, I must do my best to save this fellow’s trebly worthless life; Jim, you get me a basin.”
When I got back with the basin, the doctor had already ripped up the captain’s sleeve and exposed his great sinewy arm. It was tattooed in several places. “Here’s luck,” “A fair wind,” and “Billy Bones his fancy,” were very neatly and clearly executed on the forearm; and up near the shoulder there was a sketch of a gallows and a man hanging from it—done, as I thought, with great spirit.
“Prophetic,” said the doctor, touching this picture with his finger. “And now, Master Billy Bones, if that be your name, we’ll have a look at the colour of your blood. Jim,” he said, “are you afraid of blood?”
“No, sir,” said I.
“Well, then,” said he, “you hold the basin”; and with that he took his lancet and opened a vein.
A great deal of blood was taken before the captain opened his eyes and looked mistily about him. First he recognized the doctor with an unmistakable frown; then his glance fell upon me, and he looked relieved. But suddenly his colour changed, and he tried to raise himself, crying, “Where’s Black Dog?”
“There is no Black Dog here,” said the doctor, “except what you have on your own back. You have been drinking rum; you have had a stroke, precisely as I told you; and I have just, very much against my own will, dragged you headforemost out of the grave. Now, Mr. Bones—”
“That’s not my name,” he interrupted.
“Much I care,” returned the doctor. “It’s the name of a buccaneer of my acquaintance; and I call you by it for the sake of shortness, and what I have to say to you is this; one glass of rum won’t kill you, but if you take one you’ll take another and another, and I stake my wig if you don’t break off short, you’ll die—do you understand that?—die, and go to your own place, like the man in the Bible. Come, now, make an effort. I’ll help you to your bed for once.”
Between us, with much trouble, we managed to hoist him upstairs, and laid him on his bed, where his head fell back on the pillow as if he were almost fainting.
“Now, mind you,” said the doctor, “I clear my conscience—the name of rum for you is death.”
And with that he went off to see my father, taking me with him by the arm.
“This is nothing,” he said as soon as he had closed the door. “I have drawn blood enough to keep him quiet awhile; he should lie for a week where he is—that is the best thing for him and you; but another stroke would settle him.”