Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Previous Next

Chapter 3 The Man of the Island

  • From the side of the hill, which was here steep and stony, a spout of grave_as dislodged and fell rattling and bounding through the trees. My eyes turne_nstinctively in that direction, and I saw a figure leap with great rapidit_ehind the trunk of a pine. What it was, whether bear or man or monkey, _ould in no wise tell. It seemed dark and shaggy; more I knew not. But th_error of this new apparition brought me to a stand.
  • I was now, it seemed, cut off upon both sides; behind me the murderers, befor_e this lurking nondescript. And immediately I began to prefer the danger_hat I knew to those I knew not. Silver himself appeared less terrible i_ontrast with this creature of the woods, and I turned on my heel, and lookin_harply behind me over my shoulder, began to retrace my steps in the directio_f the boats.
  • Instantly the figure reappeared, and making a wide circuit, began to head m_ff. I was tired, at any rate; but had I been as fresh as when I rose, I coul_ee it was in vain for me to contend in speed with such an adversary. Fro_runk to trunk the creature flitted like a deer, running manlike on two legs, but unlike any man that I had ever seen, stooping almost double as it ran. Ye_ man it was, I could no longer be in doubt about that.
  • I began to recall what I had heard of cannibals. I was within an ace o_alling for help. But the mere fact that he was a man, however wild, ha_omewhat reassured me, and my fear of Silver began to revive in proportion. _tood still, therefore, and cast about for some method of escape; and as I wa_o thinking, the recollection of my pistol flashed into my mind. As soon as _emembered I was not defenceless, courage glowed again in my heart and I se_y face resolutely for this man of the island and walked briskly towards him.
  • He was concealed by this time behind another tree trunk; but he must have bee_atching me closely, for as soon as I began to move in his direction h_eappeared and took a step to meet me. Then he hesitated, drew back, cam_orward again, and at last, to my wonder and confusion, threw himself on hi_nees and held out his clasped hands in supplication.
  • At that I once more stopped.
  • "Who are you?" I asked.
  • "Ben Gunn," he answered, and his voice sounded hoarse and awkward, like _usty lock. "I'm poor Ben Gunn, I am; and I haven't spoke with a Christia_hese three years."
  • I could now see that he was a white man like myself and that his features wer_ven pleasing. His skin, wherever it was exposed, was burnt by the sun; eve_is lips were black, and his fair eyes looked quite startling in so dark _ace. Of all the beggar-men that I had seen or fancied, he was the chief fo_aggedness. He was clothed with tatters of old ship's canvas and old sea- cloth, and this extraordinary patchwork was all held together by a system o_he most various and incongruous fastenings, brass buttons, bits of stick, an_oops of tarry gaskin. About his waist he wore an old brass-buckled leathe_elt, which was the one thing solid in his whole accoutrement.
  • "Three years!" I cried. "Were you shipwrecked?"
  • "Nay, mate," said he; "marooned."
  • I had heard the word, and I knew it stood for a horrible kind of punishmen_ommon enough among the buccaneers, in which the offender is put ashore with _ittle powder and shot and left behind on some desolate and distant island.
  • "Marooned three years agone," he continued, "and lived on goats since then, and berries, and oysters. Wherever a man is, says I, a man can do for himself.
  • But, mate, my heart is sore for Christian diet. You mightn't happen to have _iece of cheese about you, now? No? Well, many's the long night I've dreame_f cheese—toasted, mostly—and woke up again, and here I were." "If ever I ca_et aboard again," said I, "you shall have cheese by the stone."
  • All this time he had been feeling the stuff of my jacket, smoothing my hands, looking at my boots, and generally, in the intervals of his speech, showing _hildish pleasure in the presence of a fellow creature. But at my last word_e perked up into a kind of startled slyness.
  • "If ever you can get aboard again, says you?" he repeated. "Why, now, who's t_inder you?"
  • "Not you, I know," was my reply.
  • "And right you was," he cried. "Now you—what do you call yourself, mate?"
  • "Jim," I told him.
  • "Jim, Jim," says he, quite pleased apparently. "Well, now, Jim, I've live_hat rough as you'd be ashamed to hear of. Now, for instance, you wouldn'_hink I had had a pious mother—to look at me?" he asked.
  • "Why, no, not in particular," I answered.
  • "Ah, well," said he, "but I had—remarkable pious. And I was a civil, piou_oy, and could rattle off my catechism that fast, as you couldn't tell on_ord from another. And here's what it come to, Jim, and it begun with chuck- farthen on the blessed grave-stones! That's what it begun with, but it wen_urther'n that; and so my mother told me, and predicked the whole, she did, the pious woman! But it were Providence that put me here. I've thought it al_ut in this here lonely island, and I'm back on piety. You don't catch m_asting rum so much, but just a thimbleful for luck, of course, the firs_hance I have. I'm bound I'll be good, and I see the way to. And, Jim"—lookin_ll round him and lowering his voice to a whisper—"I'm rich."
  • I now felt sure that the poor fellow had gone crazy in his solitude, and _uppose I must have shown the feeling in my face, for he repeated th_tatement hotly: "Rich! Rich! I says. And I'll tell you what: I'll make a ma_f you, Jim. Ah, Jim, you'll bless your stars, you will, you was the firs_hat found me!"
  • And at this there came suddenly a lowering shadow over his face, and h_ightened his grasp upon my hand and raised a forefinger threateningly befor_y eyes.
  • "Now, Jim, you tell me true: that ain't Flint's ship?" he asked.
  • At this I had a happy inspiration. I began to believe that I had found a_lly, and I answered him at once.
  • "It's not Flint's ship, and Flint is dead; but I'll tell you true, as you as_e—there are some of Flint's hands aboard; worse luck for the rest of us."
  • "Not a man—with one—leg?" he gasped.
  • "Silver?" I asked.
  • "Ah, Silver!" says he. "That were his name."
  • "He's the cook, and the ringleader too."
  • He was still holding me by the wrist, and at that he give it quite a wring.
  • "If you was sent by Long John," he said, "I'm as good as pork, and I know it.
  • But where was you, do you suppose?"
  • I had made my mind up in a moment, and by way of answer told him the whol_tory of our voyage and the predicament in which we found ourselves. He hear_e with the keenest interest, and when I had done he patted me on the head.
  • "You're a good lad, Jim," he said; "and you're all in a clove hitch, ain'_ou? Well, you just put your trust in Ben Gunn—Ben Gunn's the man to do it.
  • Would you think it likely, now, that your squire would prove a liberal-minde_ne in case of help—him being in a clove hitch, as you remark?"
  • I told him the squire was the most liberal of men.
  • "Aye, but you see," returned Ben Gunn, "I didn't mean giving me a gate t_eep, and a suit of livery clothes, and such; that's not my mark, Jim. What _ean is, would he be likely to come down to the toon of, say one thousan_ounds out of money that's as good as a man's own already?"
  • "I am sure he would," said I. "As it was, all hands were to share."
  • "And a passage home?" he added with a look of great shrewdness.
  • "Why," I cried, "the squire's a gentleman. And besides, if we got rid of th_thers, we should want you to help work the vessel home."
  • "Ah," said he, "so you would." And he seemed very much relieved.
  • "Now, I'll tell you what," he went on. "So much I'll tell you, and no more. _ere in Flint's ship when he buried the treasure; he and six along—six stron_eamen. They was ashore nigh on a week, and us standing off and on in the ol_alrus. One fine day up went the signal, and here come Flint by himself in _ittle boat, and his head done up in a blue scarf. The sun was getting up, an_ortal white he looked about the cutwater. But, there he was, you mind, an_he six all dead—dead and buried. How he done it, not a man aboard us coul_ake out. It was battle, murder, and sudden death, leastways—him against six.
  • Billy Bones was the mate; Long John, he was quartermaster; and they asked hi_here the treasure was. 'Ah,' says he, 'you can go ashore, if you like, an_tay,' he says; 'but as for the ship, she'll beat up for more, by thunder!'
  • That's what he said.
  • "Well, I was in another ship three years back, and we sighted this island.
  • 'Boys,' said I, 'here's Flint's treasure; let's land and find it.' The cap'_as displeased at that, but my messmates were all of a mind and landed. Twelv_ays they looked for it, and every day they had the worse word for me, unti_ne fine morning all hands went aboard. 'As for you, Benjamin Gunn,' say_hey, 'here's a musket,' they says, 'and a spade, and pick-axe. You can sta_ere and find Flint's money for yourself,' they says.
  • "Well, Jim, three years have I been here, and not a bite of Christian die_rom that day to this. But now, you look here; look at me. Do I look like _an before the mast? No, says you. Nor I weren't, neither, I says."
  • And with that he winked and pinched me hard.
  • "Just you mention them words to your squire, Jim," he went on. "Nor h_eren't, neither—that's the words. Three years he were the man of this island, light and dark, fair and rain; and sometimes he would maybe think upon _rayer (says you), and sometimes he would maybe think of his old mother, so b_s she's alive (you'll say); but the most part of Gunn's time (this is wha_ou'll say)—the most part of his time was took up with another matter. An_hen you'll give him a nip, like I do."
  • And he pinched me again in the most confidential manner.
  • "Then," he continued, "then you'll up, and you'll say this: Gunn is a good man (you'll say), and he puts a precious sight more confidence—a precious sight, mind that—in a gen'leman born than in these gen'leman of fortune, having bee_ne hisself."
  • "Well," I said, "I don't understand one word that you've been saying. Bu_hat's neither here nor there; for how am I to get on board?"
  • "Ah," said he, "that's the hitch, for sure. Well, there's my boat, that I mad_ith my two hands. I keep her under the white rock. If the worst come to th_orst, we might try that after dark. Hi!" he broke out. "What's that?"
  • For just then, although the sun had still an hour or two to run, all th_choes of the island awoke and bellowed to the thunder of a cannon.
  • "They have begun to fight!" I cried. "Follow me."
  • And I began to run towards the anchorage, my terrors all forgotten, whil_lose at my side the marooned man in his goatskins trotted easily and lightly.
  • "Left, left," says he; "keep to your left hand, mate Jim! Under the trees wit_ou! Theer's where I killed my first goat. They don't come down here now; they're all mastheaded on them mountings for the fear of Benjamin Gunn. Ah!
  • And there's the cetemery"—cemetery, he must have meant. "You see the mounds? _ome here and prayed, nows and thens, when I thought maybe a Sunday would b_bout doo. It weren't quite a chapel, but it seemed more solemn like; an_hen, says you, Ben Gunn was short-handed—no chapling, nor so much as a Bibl_nd a flag, you says."
  • So he kept talking as I ran, neither expecting nor receiving any answer.
  • The cannon-shot was followed after a considerable interval by a volley o_mall arms.
  • Another pause, and then, not a quarter of a mile in front of me, I beheld th_nion Jack flutter in the air above a wood.