"I wonder if it would not be advisable, Starkey, to humour the hook?"
"I'll swing before I go in there," replied Starkey doggedly, and again he had the support of the crew.
"Is this mutiny?" asked Hook more pleasantly than ever. "Starkey's ringleader!"
"Captain, mercy!" Starkey whimpered, all of a tremble now.
"Shake hands, Starkey," said Hook, proffering his claw.
Starkey looked round for help, but all deserted him. As he backed up Hook advanced, and now the red spark was in his eye. With a despairing scream the pirate leapt upon Long Tom and precipitated himself into the sea.
"Four," said Slightly.
"And now," Hook said courteously, "did any other gentlemen say mutiny?" Seizing a lantern and raising his claw with a menacing gesture, "I'll bring out that doodle-doo myself," he said, and sped into the cabin.
"Five." How Slightly longed to say it. He wetted his lips to be ready, but Hook came staggering out, without his lantern.
"Something blew out the light," he said a little unsteadily.
"Something!" echoed Mullins.
"What of Cecco?" demanded Noodler.
"He's as dead as Jukes," said Hook shortly.
His reluctance to return to the cabin impressed them all unfavourably, and the mutinous sounds again broke forth. All pirates are superstitious, and Cookson cried, "They do say the surest sign a ship's accurst is when there's one on board more than can be accounted for."
"I've heard," muttered Mullins, "he always boards the pirate craft last. Had he a tail, captain?"
"They say," said another, looking viciously at Hook, "that when he comes it's in the likeness of the wickedest man aboard."
"Had he a hook, captain?" asked Cookson insolently; and one after another took up the cry, "The ship's doomed!" At this the children could not resist raising a cheer. Hook had well-nigh forgotten his prisoners, but as he swung round on them now his face lit up again.
"Lads," he cried to his crew, "now here's a notion. Open the cabin door and drive them in. Let them fight the doodle-doo for their lives. If they kill him, we're so much the better; if he kills them, we're none the worse."
For the last time his dogs admired Hook, and devotedly they did his bidding. The boys, pretending to struggle, were pushed into the cabin and the door was closed on them.
"Now, listen!" cried Hook, and all listened. But not one dared to face the door. Yes, one, Wendy, who all this time had been bound to the mast. It was for neither a scream nor a crow that she was watching, it was for the reappearance of Peter.
She had not long to wait. In the cabin he had found the thing for which he had gone in search: the key the would free the children of their manacles, and now they all stole forth, armed with such weapons as they could find. First signing them to hide, Peter cut Wendy's bonds, and then nothing could have been easier than for them all to fly off together; but one thing barred the way, an oath, "Hook or me this time." So when he had freed Wendy, he whispered for her to conceal herself with the others, and himself took her place by the mast, her cloak around him so that he should pass for her. Then he took a great breath and crowed.
To the pirates it was a voice crying that all the boys lay slain in the cabin; and they were panic-stricken. Hook tried to hearten them; but like the dogs he had made them they showed him their fangs, and he knew that if he took his eyes off them now they would leap at him.
"Lads," he said, ready to cajole or strike as need be, but never quailing for an instant, "I've thought it out. There's a Jonah aboard."
"Ay," they snarled, "a man wi' a hook."
"No, lads, no, it's the girl. Never was luck on a pirate ship wi' a woman on board. We'll right the ship when she's gone."
Some of them remembered that this had been a saying of Flint's. "It's worth trying," they said doubtfully.
"Fling the girl overboard," cried Hook; and they made a rush at the figure in the cloak.