Crimes and Punishments
THE CRACK OF THE PISTOL echoed around the mountain. It was even louder in Daphne’s head. Ataba went over backward, like a falling tree.
Only Milo and Pilu know what’s just happened, she thought. No one else here has even seen a gun before. There was a loud noise and the old man fell over. I might just be able to stop everyone from being killed. Mau was crouched over the body of Ataba, halfway toward getting up. She waved at him frantically to stay down.
Then Foxlip committed suicide. He didn’t know it at the time, but that’s how it started.
He pulled out his other pistol and growled, “Tell ’em not to move. First one who does, he’s a dead darkie. You tell ’em that right now!”
She stepped forward with her hands up. “I know these men! They’re Foxlip and Polegrave! They were crew on the Sweet Judy. They kill people! They shot Mister Wainsly and Mister
Plummer! They laughed about it! They – Pilu, tell them what a gun is!”
“They are bad men!” said Milo.
“Yes! They are! And they’ve got more pistols. Look! Stuck in their belts!”
“You mean the spark-makers?” said Mau, still crouched. She could see his muscles, wound up to spring.
Oh dear, thought Daphne, what a time to have a good memory….
“There’s no time to explain. They can point them at you and kill you better than any spear. And they will kill you, do you understand? And they probably won’t kill me. I’d be worth too much. Keep away. This is between… trouser-people!”
“But you pointed one at me – “
“There’s no time to explain!” hissed Daphne.
“You’re talking a good deal too much, missie,” said Foxlip. And just behind Daphne, Polegrave sniggered. She felt the barrel of a pistol pressed into the small of her back.
“Saw a feller shot inna spine once, miss,” the man whispered. “It stuck there, indeed it did. Funny thing was, he started dancin’, right there, legs goin’ like mad and him screaming. Didn’t fall over for ten minutes. Amazin’ thing, nature.”
“Stow that!” said Foxlip, watching the clearing nervously. The islanders had mostly slid away into the bushes, but those who remained did not look too happy. “What did that silly ol’ devil want to get hisself shot for? Now they’re all worked up!”
“Pretty raggedly lot, though,” said Polegrave. “We could hang on ’til the others come – “
“I told you to shut up!”
They don’t know what to do now, Daphne thought. They are stupid and scared. The trouble is, they are stupid and scared with guns. And there’s others coming. Imo made us smart, Mau said. Am I smarter than a stupid man with a gun? Yes, I think I am.
“Gentlemen,” she said, “why don’t we deal with this like civilized people?”
“Are you having a little laugh, your majesty?” said Foxlip.
“Get me to Port Mercia, and my father will give you gold and a pardon. Who’s going to give you a better offer this day? Look at this from a mathematical point of view. You’ve got guns, yes, but how long can you stay awake? There’s a lot more” – she forced the word out – “darkies than you. Even if one man stays awake, he’s only got two shots before his throat is cut. Of course, they might not start with the throat since they are, as you point out, savages and not as civilized as you. You must have a boat here. You don’t dare stay.”
“But you’re our hostage,” said Polegrave.
“You might be mine. I just have to scream.