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I LOST no time, of course, in telling my mother all that I knew, and perhaps should have told her long before, and we saw ourselves at once in a difficult and dangerous position. Some of the man's money - If he had any - Was certainly due to us; but it was not likely that our captain's shipmates, above all the two specimens seen by me, Black Dog and the blind beggar, would be inclined to give up their booty in payment of the dead man's debts. The captain's order to mount at once and ride for Doctor Livesey would have left my mother alone and unprotected, which was not to be thought of. Indeed, it seemed impossible for either of us to remain much longer in the house: the fall of coals in the kitchen grate, the very ticking of the clock, filled us with alarms. The neighbourhood, to our ears, seemed haunted by approaching footsteps; and what between the dead body of the captain on the parlour floor, and the thought of that detestable blind beggar hovering near at hand, and ready to return, there were moments when, as the saying goes, I jumped in my skin for terror. Something must speedily be resolved upon; and it occurred to us at last to go forth together and seek help in the neighbouring hamlet. No sooner said than done. Bare-headed as we were, we ran out at once in the gathering evening and the frosty fog.
The hamlet lay not many hundred yards away though out of view, on the other side of the next cove; and what greatly encouraged me, it was in an opposite direction from that whence the blind man had made his appearance, and whither he had presumably returned. We were not many minutes on the road, though we sometimes stopped to lay hold of each other and hearken. But there was no unusual sound - nothing but the low wash of the ripple and the croaking of the inmates of the wood.

It was already candle-light when we reached the hamlet, and I shall never forget how much I was cheered to see the yellow shine in doors and windows; but that, was the best of the help we were likely to get in that quarter For - you would have thought men would have been ashamed of themselves - no soul would consent to return with us to the `Admiral Benbow.' The more we told of our troubles, the more - man, woman, and child - they clung to the shelter of their houses. The name of Captain Flint, though it was strange to me, was well enough known to some there, and carried a great weight of terror. Some of the men who had been to field-work on the far side of the `Admiral Benbow' remembered, besides, to have seen several strangers on the road, and, taking them to be smugglers, to have bolted away and one at least had seen a little lugger in what we called Kitt's Hole. For that matter, anyone who was a comrade of that captain's was enough to frighten them to death. And the short and the long of the matter was, that while we could get several who were willing enough to ride to Dr Livesey's which lay in another direction, not one would help us to defend the inn.

They say cowardice is infectious; but then argument is, on the other hand, a great emboldener; and so when each had said his say, my mother made them a speech. She would not, she declared, lose money that belonged to her fatherless boy; `if none of the rest of you dare,' she said, `Jim and I dare. Back we will go, the way we came, and small thanks to you big, hulking, chicken-hearted men. We'll have that chest open, if we die for it. And I'll thank you for that bag, Mrs Crossley, to bring back our lawful money in.'

Of course, I said I would go with my mother; and of course they all cried out at our foolhardiness; but even then not a man would go along with us. All they would do was to give me a loaded pistol, lest we were attacked; and to promise to have horses ready saddled, in case we were pursued on our return; while one lad was to ride forward to the doctor's in search of armed assistance.

My heart was beating finely when we two set forth in the cold night upon this dangerous venture. A full moon was beginning to rise and peered redly through the upper edges of the fog, and this increased our haste, for it was plain, before we came forth again, that all would be as bright as day, and our departure exposed to the eyes of any watchers. We slipped along the hedges, noiseless and swift, nor did we see or hear anything to increase our terrors, till, to our relief, the door of the `Admiral Benbow' had closed behind us.

I slipped the bolt at once, and we stood and panted for a moment in the dark, alone in the house with the dead captain's body. Then my mother got a candle in the bar, and, holding each other's hands, we advanced into the parlour. He lay as we had left him, on his back, with his eyes open, and one arm stretched out.

`Draw down the blind, Jim,' whispered my mother; `they might come and watch outside. And now,' said she, when I had done so, `we have to get the key off that; and who's to touch it, I should like to know!' and she gave a kind of sob as she said the words.

I went down on my knees at once. On the floor close to his hand there was a little round of paper, blackened on the one side. I could not doubt that this was the black spot; and taking it up, I found written on the other side, in a very good, clear hand, this short message: `You have till ten to-night.'

`He had till ten, mother,' said I; and just as I said it, our old clock began striking. This sudden noise startled us shockingly; but the news was good, for it was only six.

`Now, Jim,' she said, `that key.'

I felt in his pockets, one after another. A few small coins, a thimble, and some thread and big needles, a piece of pigtail tobacco bitten away at the end, his gully with the crooked handle, a pocket compass, and a tinder box, were all that they contained, and I began to despair.

`Perhaps it's round his neck,' suggested my mother.

Overcoming a strong repugnance, I tore open his shirt at the neck, and there, sure enough, hanging to a bit of tarry string, which I cut with his own gully, we found the key. At this triumph we were filled with hope, and hurried upstairs, without delay, to the little room where he had slept so long, and where his box had stood since the day of his arrival.

It was like any other seaman's chest on the outside, the initial `B.' burned on the top of it with a hot iron, and the corners somewhat smashed and broken as by long, rough usage.

`Give me the key,' said my mother; and though the lock was very stiff, she had turned it and thrown back the lid in a twinkling.

A strong smell of tobacco and tar rose from the interior, but nothing was to be seen on the top except a suit of very good clothes, carefully brushed and folded. They had never been worn, my mother said. Under that, the miscellany began - a quadrant, a tin canikin, several sticks of tobacco, two brace of very handsome pistols, a piece of bar silver, an old Spanish watch and some other trinkets of little value and mostly of foreign make, a pair of compasses mounted with brass, and five or six curious West Indian shells. I have often wondered since why he should have carried about these shells with him in his wandering, guilty, and hunted life.

In the meantime, we had found nothing of any value but the silver and the trinkets, and neither of these were in our way. Underneath there was an old boat-cloak, whitened with sea-salt on many a harbour- bar. My mother pulled it up with impatience, and there lay before us, the last things in the chest, a bundle tied up in oilcloth, and looking like papers, and a canvas bag, that gave forth, at a touch, the jingle of gold.

`I'll show these rogues that I'm an honest woman,' said my mother. `I'll have my dues, and not a farthing over. Hold Mrs Crossley's bag.' And she began to count over the amount of the captain's score from the sailor's bag into the one that I was holding.

It was a long, difficult business, for the coins were of all countries and sizes - doubloons, and louis-d'ors, and guineas, and pieces of eight, and I know not what besides, all shaken together at random. The guineas, too, were about the scarcest, and it was with these only that my mother knew how to make her count.

When we were about half-way through, I suddenly put my hand upon her arm; for I had heard in the silent, frosty air, a sound that brought my heart into my mouth - the tap-tapping of the blind man's stick upon the frozen road. It drew nearer and nearer, while we sat holding our breath. Then it struck sharp on the inn door, and then we could hear the handle being turned, and the bolt rattling as the wretched being tried to enter; and then there was a long time of silence both within and without. At last the tapping recommenced, and, to our indescribable joy and gratitude, died slowly away again until it ceased to be heard.

`Mother,' said I, `take the whole and let's be going;' for I was sure the bolted door must have seemed suspicious, and would bring the whole hornet's nest about our ears; though how thankful I was that I had bolted it, none could tell who had never met that terrible blind man.

But my mother, frightened as she was, would not consent to take a fraction more than was due to her, and was obstinately unwilling to be content with less. It was not yet seven, she said, by a long way; she knew her rights and she would have them; and she was still arguing with me, when a little low whistle sounded a good way off upon the hill. That was enough, and more than enough, for both of us.

`I'll take what I have,' she said, jumping to her feet.

`And I'll take this to square the count,' said I, picking up the oilskin packet.

Next moment we were both groping downstairs, leaving the candle by the empty chest; and the next we had opened the door and were in full retreat. We had not started a moment too soon. The fog was rapidly dispersing; already the moon shone quite clear on the high ground on either side; and it was only in the exact bottom of the dell and round the tavern door that a thin veil still hung unbroken to conceal the first steps of our escape. Far less than half-way to the hamlet, very little beyond the bottom of the hill, we must come forth into the moonlight. Nor was this all; for the sound of several footsteps running came already to our ears, and as we looked back in their direction, a light tossing to and fro and still rapidly advancing, showed that one of the new-comers carried a lantern.

`My dear,' said my mother suddenly, `take the money and run on. I am going to faint.' is was certainly the end for both of us, I thought. How I cursed the cowardice of the neighbours; how I blamed my poor mother for her honesty and her greed, for her past foolhardiness and present weakness! We were just at the little bridge, by good fortune; and I helped her, tottering as she was, to the edge of the bank, where, sure enough, she gave a sigh and fell on my shoulder. I do not know how I found the strength to do it at all, and I am afraid it was roughly done; but I managed to drag her down the bank and a little way under the arch. Farther I could not move her, for the bridge was too low to let me do more than crawl below it so there we had to stay - my mother almost entirely exposed and both of us within earshot of the inn

当然,我没有耽搁时间,我把所知道的一切告诉了母亲,也许本该早就告诉她。我们立刻意识到自己正处在一个既困难又危险的位置上。那个人的一些钱——如果他有些的话——当然属于我们;但是让船长的那些船友们、特别是我见过的那两个怪物——“黑狗”和瞎乞丐——自动放弃他们的战利品,作为船长欠债的抵偿,是不大可能的。至于船长让我立刻骑马去找利弗西医生的嘱咐,将会使母亲被孤单地留下,毫无保障,这是当初不曾设想到的。说实在的,让我们两个中的任何一个在这房子里多呆上一会儿看来都是不可能的:厨房里煤块烧落的声音,钟表走动的嘀嗒声,都使我们胆战心惊。在我们耳中,四周充满了走近的脚步声,并且一看到客厅地板上船长的死尸,就会想到那个可恶的瞎乞丐就在附近徘徊,随时都可能回来。此时此刻,就像谚语说的,我是吓得魂不附体。事情必须尽快做出决断,最后,我们决定一同到附近的小村子里去求援。说到做到,我们头上什么都没戴,便立刻在渐浓的暮色和寒雾里跑了出去。

小村子在下一个海湾的另一头,尽管从这里看不到,却没几百码远。令我勇气大增的是,那与瞎子出现的方向刚好相反,他要来也得从相反的方向来。我们在路上没用多长时间,虽然我们有时停下来紧握着手倾听一阵,但是没什么不寻常的声音——除了轻涛拍岸和寒鸦噪林外,再没什么了。

当我们到达村子时,已是掌灯时分,我永远也不会忘记当我看到窗里橙黄色的灯光时,我是何等的雀跃。但是就这,就像后来被证实的那样,是我们在这个地方所能得到的最大的援助。因为——你会想到,人们该为他们自己感到羞耻——没有人愿意答应同我们一起回“本葆海军上将”旅店。我们越说我们遇到的麻烦,男人、女人和孩子们便越往他们自己的屋子里缩。弗林特船长的名字,尽管对我来说是陌生的,对那儿的一些人来说却如雷贯耳,带来了极大的恐慌。在野外劳作、到过“本葆海军上将”旅店那一带的一些人想了起来,他们曾在路上见到了几个陌生人,还以为是走私客哩,因此大家四处逃散了。此外,至少有一人还看到在我们叫做凯特湾的地方有一艘小帆船。因为上述情况,一说是弗林特船长的同伴,就把他们吓得要死。总而言之,事情的结果是,有几个人自愿和我们一道骑马去找住在另一头的利弗西医生,但是没有一个人愿意帮助我们去保卫旅店。

据说怯懦是会传染的,但另一方面,辩论却可以极大地鼓舞人,于是当每个人都发表了自己的见解后,母亲也向他们发表了演说。她宣布,她不会让属于她没了父亲的孩子的钱白白损失掉,“要是你们没有一个人敢去的话,”她说,“我和吉姆敢。我们会沿着来时的路回去,对你们这些胆小的笨蛋来说,我们多余言谢。我们会把那个箱子打开的,即使为此付出生命也在所不惜。克罗斯莱太太,谢谢你给我们个袋子,好用它去装回我们应得的钱财。”

当然,我说我会和母亲一道走。他们也当即为我们的英勇而惊呼起来;但是即便这样也没有一个人愿意和我们一道走。他们所愿做的只是给了我一支装好子弹的手枪,以防遭到袭击,并且还答应一旦我们在返回的路上被追赶,他们就备好马鞍;同时,派了个年轻人骑马去医生那里寻求武装支援。

当我俩在这个寒夜冒险出发时,我的心跳得很厉害。一轮满月冉冉升起,带着红晕出现在雾气的上方,它催促我们加快步伐,因为显然,当我们再返回时,一切将亮如白昼,而我们一出门便暴露在任何一个监视者的眼皮底下。我们悄无声息地迅速溜过篱笆,不过并没看到或听到任何增加我们恐惧的东西,直到“本葆海军上将”的大门关在了我们身后,我们才大大地松了一口气。

我立刻划好门栓,我们在黑暗中站着喘息了一会儿。房子里只有船长的尸体与我们作伴。接着,母亲在酒吧间里拿了根蜡烛,我们手牵着手走进了客厅。船长像我们离开时的样子躺在那里,仰面朝天,睁着眼睛,一只胳膊向外伸展着。

“拉下百叶窗,吉姆,”母亲小声说道,“他们有可能来,在外面观察我们哩。而眼下,”在我拉下百叶窗后,她说,“我们得从那个人身上拿到钥匙。我真不知道,谁敢碰他哩。”她啜泣着说了那些话。

我立刻跪下身子。在靠近他手的地板上有一个小圆纸片,一面涂了黑色。我立刻断定这就是“黑券”了,就拾起了它。我发现字写在另一面上,书写得非常美观、清晰,上面写道:“你将活到今晚十点。”

“允许他活到十点,妈妈。”我说,就在我说的时候,我们的老钟开始打点了。这突如其来的动静把我们吓了一大跳。但是消息不坏,因为这才六点钟。

“眼下,吉姆,”她说,“钥匙。”

我逐个摸了他的口袋,几个小硬币,一个顶针,还有一些线和大针,一支咬了一头的嚼烟,他那把弯柄的招刀,一个袖珍罗盘,还有一个火绒箱①,这就是口袋里面装的全部东西了。我开始失望了。

①内装火绒、燧石及钢片,用以引火。——译者注

“可能挂在他的脖子上。”母亲提醒道。

我强忍着厌恶扯开了他颈部的衬衫,那里果真挂着一条油腻腻的小绳,我用他的招刀切断了它,我们找到了钥匙。这小小的胜利使我们充满了希望,立刻毫不迟疑地上楼,进到那间他躺了那么久的屋子里,他的箱子自从他搬来时起就立在那里。

它和外面其他任何一个船员的箱子一样,在盖子上用热烙铁烙上了他姓名的起首字母“B”,由于长期不爱惜地使用,箱子角有些磨损、裂纹了。

“把钥匙给我。”母亲说,尽管锁眼很生涩,她转动钥匙,顷刻间便把盖子打开了。

一股浓烈的烟草味和柏油味从里面冒了出来,但是上面除了一套质地优良的好衣裳外,就什么也看不到了。那套衣服是被非常仔细地刷过并叠好了的,母亲说它们从未被穿过。在那套衣服的下面,开始出现了各式各样的东西:一个四分仪,一个锡制的小酒杯,几颗烟,两对非常漂亮的手铣,一根银条,一只西班牙老怀表,还有其他一些不值钱的小装饰品,大多是外国制造的,一副黄铜杆的圆规,还有五六个珍奇的西印度贝壳。从那时起,它常常使我想到,他一定是带着这些贝壳一起度过他流浪、罪恶、被追逐的一生的。

就这样,我们除了些银子和小装饰品外,没有发现任何有价值的东西,就连这两样东西对我们来说也没啥用场。再下面,是一件旧的航海斗篷,在很多个港口沙洲被海盐浸得发白。母亲不耐烦地把它拖了出来,现在展现在我们面前的是箱子里最后的物件了,用油布捆着的一包东西,看上去像是些纸,还有一个帆布包,一碰竟发出了金块的丁当声。

“我要让那些滑头们看看,我是个诚实的妇人,”母亲说,“我要拿回他欠的账,多一个子儿也不要。撑好克罗斯莱太太的袋子。”然后她开始计算船长欠的钱数,从那个水手的袋子里如数取出来,放到我撑着的那个袋子里。

这是个费时费力的活儿,因为这些硬币来自各个国家,模样各异——西班牙金币,还有法国金路易、英国基尼以及八里亚尔的西班牙银元,还有其他我不认识的,都杂乱地混在一起。

基尼大概最少,也是那些硬币里母亲惟一知道如何计数的。我们大概才数到一半,我猛然把手搭到她的胳膊上,因为我在静寂寒冷的空气中听到了一种声音,我的心都快提到嗓子眼了——瞎子的棍子一下下敲在硬梆梆的路面上,声音越来越近,我们坐下来,大气儿也不敢出。接着它急剧地敲击着旅店的门,再接下来我们听到门把手在转动,门栓嘎嘎作响,似乎那个残暴的家伙妄图进来;接着里里外外都是一段长时间的静寂。最后,手杖声重又响起来,令我们无比高兴和宽慰的是,它又渐渐地远去消失了。

“妈妈,”我说,“全都拿上,我们快走吧。”因为我肯定那插着的门势必会引起怀疑,会自找麻烦,虽然我庆幸插上了门,这种庆幸是从没见过那瞎子的人所无法想像的。

但是我的母亲,尽管她也害怕,却不肯多拿走欠账之外的一个子儿,同时也固执地不肯少拿一个子儿。还没到七点,她说,还远着呢。她知道她的权益,她一定要得到它。她还在同我争辩呢,这时从小山上传来一声低低的口哨。那对我们俩来说就足够了,足足够了。

“我要拿走我应得的。”她跳起身来说。

“我要拿这个来抵他的债。”我拾起那个油布包说。

下一刻,我们两人都摸索着下楼,把蜡烛留在了空箱子那儿,接着我们打开了门,开始“总撤退”。我们动身的那一刻,时候已经不早了。雾正很快地消散,月亮在高地上方把两边都照得通明,只有在小山谷的正底部和旅店门的四周尚有薄薄的一层面纱未曾消褪,掩护着我们逃跑的最初几步。离小村子还有一多半路程、刚走出小山谷底部一丁点儿的时候,我们便暴露在月光下了。不仅如此,几个人行进的脚步声已进入到我们的耳中,当我们回头向他们的方向巴望的时候,只见一盏灯前前后后摆荡着,在快速地向前移动,这表明新的来人中有一个拿着提灯。

“哦,宝贝儿,”母亲突然说,“你带上钱往前跑吧,我快要晕过去了。”

这定是我俩的末日了,我想。我是怎样的诅咒那些怯懦的邻居们哪,我又是怎样的责怪我可怜的母亲,由于她的诚实和小气,也由于她过去的蛮勇和现在的软弱。幸运的是,我们刚好来到小桥上。于是我搀着哆哆嗦嗦的母亲来到了岸边,说真的,到了那儿,她叹了口气便歪倒在我的肩上了。我根本不明白是从哪里来的一股劲,恐怕还不小哩,总之我设法把她拖下了岸,在拱桥下还有点路。我再也挪不动她了,因为桥太低,我在下面也只能爬行了。于是我们不得不呆在那里——母亲差不多完全暴露着,而我们俩都在旅店听得到的距离内


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