After a little while of silence, he said he thought somebody might read a prayer. `It's the custom, sir,' he added apologetically. And not long after, without another word, he passed away.
In the meantime the captain, whom I had observed to be wonderfully swollen about the chest and pockets, had turned out a great many various stores - the British colours, a Bible a coil of stoutish rope, pen, ink, the log-book, and pounds of tobacco. He had found a longish fir-tree lying felled an trimmed in the enclosure, and, with the help of Hunter, he had set it up at the corner of the log-house where the trunks crossed and made an angle. Then, climbing on the roof, he had with his own hand bent and run up the colours.
This seemed mightily to relieve him. He re-entered the log-house, and set about counting up the stores, as if nothing else existed. But he had an eye on Tom's passage for all that; and as soon as all was over, came forward with another flag, and reverently spread it on the body.
`Don't you take on, sir,' he said, shaking the squire's hand. `All's well with him; no fear for a hand that's been shot down in his duty to captain and owner. It mayn't be good divinity, but it's a fact.'
Then he pulled me aside.
`Dr Livesey,' he said, `in how many weeks do you and squire expect the consort?'
I told him it was a question, not of weeks, but of months; that if we were not back by the end of August, Blandly was to send to find us; but neither sooner nor later. `You can calculate for yourself,' I said.
`Why, yes,' returned the captain, scratching his head, `and making a large allowance, sir, for all the gifts of Providence, I should say we were pretty close hauled.'
`How do you mean?' I asked.
`It's a pity, sir, we lost that second load. That's what I mean,' replied the captain. `As for powder and shot, we'll do. But the rations are short, very short - so short, Dr Livesey, that we're, perhaps, as well without that extra mouth.'
And he pointed to the dead body under the flag.
Just then, with a roar and a whistle, a round-shot passed high above the roof of the log-house and plumped far beyond us in the wood.
`Oho!' said the captain. `Blaze away! You've little enough powder already my lads.'
At the second trial, the aim was better, and the ball descended inside the stockade, scattering a cloud of sand, but doing no further damage.
`Captain,' said the squire, `the house is quite invisible from the ship. It must be the flag they are aiming at. Would it not be wiser to take it in?'
`Strike my colours!' cried the captain. `No, sir, not I;' and as soon as he had said the words, I think we all agreed with him. For it was not only a piece of stout, seamanly, good feeling; it was good policy besides, and showed our enemies that we despised their cannonade.
All through the evening they kept thundering away. Ball after ball flew over or fell short, or kicked up the sand in the enclosure; but they had to fire so high that the shot fell dead and buried itself in the soft sand. We had no ricochet to fear; and though one popped in through the roof of the log-house and out again through the floor, we soon got used to that sort of horse-play, and minded it no more than cricket.
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