WE made our best speed across the strip of wood that now divided us from the stockade; and at every step we took the voices of the buccaneers rang nearer. Soon we could hear their footfalls as they ran, and the cracking of the branches as they breasted across a bit of thicket.
I began to see we should have a brush for it in earnest, and looked to my priming.
`Captain,' said I, `Trelawney is the dead shot. Give him your gun; his own is useless.'
They exchanged guns, and Trelawney, silent and cool as he had been since the beginning of the bustle, hung a moment on his heel to see that all was fit for service. At the same time, observing Gray to be unarmed, I handed him my cutlass. It did all our hearts good to see him spit in his hand, knit his brows, and make the blade sing through the air. It was plain from every line of his body that our new hand was worth his salt.
Forty paces farther we came to the edge of the wood and saw the stockade in front of us. We struck the enclosure about the middle of the south side, and, almost at the same time, seven mutineers - Job Anderson, the boatswain, at their head - appeared in full cry at the south-western corner.
They paused, as if taken aback; and before they recovered, not only the squire and I, but Hunter and Joyce from the block house, had time to fire. The four shots came in rather a scattering volley; but they did the business: one of the enemy actually fell, and the rest, without hesitation, turned and plunged into the trees.
After reloading, we walked down the outside of the palisade to see the fallen enemy. He was stone dead - shot through the heart.
We began to rejoice over our good success, when just at that moment a pistol cracked in the bush, a ball whistled close past my ear, and poor Tom Redruth stumbled and fell his length on the ground. Both the squire and I returned the shot; but as we had nothing to aim at, it is probable we only wasted powder. Then we reloaded, and turned our attention to poor Tom.
The captain and Gray were already examining him; and I saw with half an eye that all was over.
I believe the readiness of our return volley had scattered the mutineers once more, for we were suffered without further molestation to get the poor old gamekeeper hoisted over the stockade, and carried, groaning and bleeding, into the log-house.
Poor old fellow, he had not uttered one word of surprise, complaint, fear, or even acquiescence, from the very beginning of our troubles till now, when we had laid him down in the log-house to die. He had lain like a Trojan behind his mattress in the gallery; he had followed every order silently doggedly, and well; he was the oldest of our party by a score of years; and now, sullen, old, serviceable servant, it was he that was to die.
The squire dropped down beside him on his knees and kissed his hand, crying like a child.
`Be I going, doctor?' he asked.
`Tom, my man,' said I, `you're going home.'
`I wish I had had a lick at them with the gun first,' he replied.
`Tom,' said the squire, `say you forgive me, won't you?'
`Would that be respectful like, from me to you, squire?' was the answer. `Howsoever, so be it, amen!'
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