`Lad,' said Silver, `no one's a-pressing of you. Take your bearings. None of us won't hurry you, mate; time goes so pleasant in your company, you see.'

`Well,' says I, growing a bit bolder, `if I'm to choose, I declare I have a right to know what's what, and why you're here, and where my friends are.'

`Wot's wot?' repeated one of the buccaneers, in a deep growl. `Ah, he'd be a lucky one as knowed that!'

`You'll, perhaps, batten down your hatches till you're spoke to, my friend,' cried Silver truculently to this speaker. And then, in his first gracious tones, he replied to me: `Yesterday morning, Mr Hawkins,' said he, `in the dog-watch, down came Doctor Livesey with a flag of truce. Says he, "Cap'n Silver, you're sold out. Ship's gone." Well, maybe we'd been taking a glass, and a song to help it round. I won't say no. Leastways, none of us had looked out. We looked out, and, by thunder! the old ship was gone. I never seen a pack o' fools look fishier; and you may lay to that, if I tells you that looked the fishiest. "Well," says the doctor, "let's bargain." We bargained, him and I, and here we are: stores, brandy, block-house, the firewood you was thoughtful enough to cut, and, in a manner of speaking, the whole blessed boat, from cross-trees to kelson. As for them, they've tramped; I don't know where's they are.'

He drew again quietly at his pipe.

`And lest you should take it into that head of yours,' he went on, `that you was included in the treaty, here's the last word that was said: "How many are you," says I, "to leave?" "Four," says he - "four, and one of us wounded. As for that boy, I don't know where he is, confound him," says he, "nor I don't much care. We're about sick of him." These was his words.'

`Is that all?' I asked.

`Well, it's all that you're to hear, my son,' returned Silver.

`And now I am to choose?'

`And now you are to choose, and you may lay to that,' said Silver.

`Well,' said I, `I am not such a fool but I know pretty well what I have to look for. Let the worst come to the worst, it's little I care. I've seen too many die since I fell in with you. But there's a thing or two I have to tell you,' I said, and by this time I was quite excited; `and the first is this: here you are, in a bad way: ship lost, treasure lost, men lost; your whole business gone to wreck; and if you want to know who did it - it was I! I was in the apple barrel the night we sighted land, and I heard you, John, and you, Dick Johnson, and Hands, who is now at the bottom of the sea, and told every word you said before the hour was out. And as for the schooner, it was I who cut her cable, and it was I that killed the men you ha aboard of her, and it was I who brought her where you'll never see her more, not one of you. The laugh's on my side; I've had the top of this business from the first; I no more fear you than I fear a fly. Kill me, if you please, or spare me. But one thing I'll say, and no more; if you spare me, bygones are bygones, and when you fellows are in court for piracy, I'll save you all I can. It is for you to choose. Kill another and do yourselves no good, or spare me and keep a witness to save you from the gallows.'

I stopped, for, I tell you, I was out of breath, and, to my wonder, not a man of them moved, but all sat staring at me like as many sheep. And while they were still staring, I broke out again:--

`And now, Mr Silver,' I said, `I believe you're the best man here, and if things go to the worst, I'll take it kind of you to let the doctor know the way I took it.'

`I'll bear it in mind,' said Silver, with an accent so curious that I could not, for the life of me, decide whether he were laughing at my request, or had been favourably affected by my courage.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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