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.