PART FIVE: My Sea Adventure
Chapter 27: "Pieces of Eight"
OWING to the cant of the vessel, the masts hung far out
over the water, and from my perch on the cross-trees I
had nothing below me but the surface of the bay.
Hands, who was not so far up, was in consequence nearer
to the ship and fell between me and the bulwarks. He
rose once to the surface in a lather of foam and blood
and then sank again for good. As the water settled, I
could see him lying huddled together on the clean, bright
sand in the shadow of the vessel's sides. A fish or two
whipped past his body. Sometimes, by the quivering of the
water, he appeared to move a little, as if he were trying
to rise. But he was dead enough, for all that, being both
shot and drowned, and was food for fish in the very place
where he had designed my slaughter.
I was no sooner certain of this than I began to feel
sick, faint, and terrified. The hot blood was running
over my back and chest. The dirk, where it had pinned
my shoulder to the mast, seemed to burn like a hot
iron; yet it was not so much these real sufferings that
distressed me, for these, it seemed to me, I could bear
without a murmur; it was the horror I had upon my mind
of falling from the cross-trees into that still green
water, beside the body of the coxswain.
I clung with both hands till my nails ached, and I shut my
eyes as if to cover up the peril. Gradually my mind came
back again, my pulses quieted down to a more natural time,
and I was once more in possession of myself.
It was my first thought to pluck forth the dirk, but
either it stuck too hard or my nerve failed me, and I
desisted with a violent shudder. Oddly enough, that
very shudder did the business. The knife, in fact, had
come the nearest in the world to missing me altogether;
it held me by a mere pinch of skin, and this the
shudder tore away. The blood ran down the faster, to
be sure, but I was my own master again and only tacked
to the mast by my coat and shirt.