“It is your privilege to choose your manner of death and to name your successor,” I heard Ringan say.
But Cosh did not need the invitation. Now that his case was desperate, the courage in him revived. He was fully armed, and in a second he had drawn a knife and leaped for Ringan’s throat.
Perhaps he expected it, perhaps he had learned the art of the wild beast so that his body was answerable to his swiftest wish. I do not know, but I saw Cosh’s knife crash on the stone and splinter, while Ringan stood by his side.
“You have answered my question,” he said quietly. “Draw your cutlass, man. You have maybe one chance in ten thousand for your life.”
I shut my eyes as I heard the steel clash. Then very soon came silence. I looked again, and saw Ringan wiping his blade on a bunch of grass, and a body lying before him.
He was speaking—speaking, I suppose, about the successor to the dead man, whom two negroes had promptly removed. Suddenly at my shoulder Shalah gave the hoot of an owl, followed at a second’s interval by a second and a third. I suppose it was some signal agreed with Ringan, but at the time I thought the man had gone mad.
I was not very sane myself. What I had seen had sent a cold grue through me, for I had never before seen a man die violently, and the circumstances of the place and hour made the thing a thousandfold more awful. I had a black fright on me at that whole company of merciless men, and especially at Ringan, whose word was law to them. Now the worst effect of fear is that it obscures good judgment, and makes a man in desperation do deeds of a foolhardiness from which at other times he would shrink. All I remembered in that moment was that I had to reach Ringan, and that Mercer had told me that the safest plan was to show a bold front. I never remembered that I had also been bidden to follow Shalah, nor did I reflect that a secret conclave of pirates was no occasion to choose for my meeting. With a sudden impulse I forced myself to my feet, and stalked, or rather shambled, into the light.
“Ninian,” I cried, “Ninian Campbell! I’m here to claim your promise.”
The whole company turned on me, and I was gripped by a dozen hands and flung on the ground. Ringan came forward to look, but there was no recognition in his eyes. Some one cried out, “A spy!” and there was a fierce murmur of voices, which were meaningless to me, for fear had got me again, and I had neither ears nor voice. Dimly it seemed that he gave some order, and I was trussed up with ropes. Then I was conscious of being carried out of the glare of torches into the cool darkness. Presently I was laid in some kind of log-house, carpeted with fir boughs, for the needles tickled my face.
Bit by bit my senses came back to me, and I caught hold of my vagrant courage.
A big negro in seaman’s clothes with a scarlet sash round his middle was squatted on the floor watching me by the light of a ship’s lantern. He had a friendly, foolish face, and I remember yet how he rolled his eyeballs.