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Treasure Island

Treasure Island

1. The Old Sea-dog at the Admiral Benbow

SQUIRE TRELAWNEY, Dr. Livesey, and the rest of these gen­tle­men hav­ing asked me to write down the whole par­tic­u­lars about Trea­sure Island, from the begin­ning to the end, keep­ing noth­ing back but the bear­ings of the island, and that only because there is still trea­sure not yet lift­ed, I take up my pen in the year of grace 17__ and go back to the time when my father kept the Admi­ral Ben­bow inn and the brown old sea­man with the sabre cut first took up his lodg­ing under our roof.

I remem­ber him as if it were yes­ter­day, as he came plod­ding to the inn door, his sea-chest fol­low­ing behind him in a hand-bar­row – a tall, strong, heavy, nut-brown man, his tar­ry pig­tail falling over the shoul­der of his soiled blue coat, his hands ragged and scarred, with black, bro­ken nails, and the sabre cut across one cheek, a dirty, livid white. I remem­ber him look­ing round the cov­er and whistling to him­self as he did so, and then break­ing out in that old sea-song that he sang so often after­wards:

Fif­teen men on the dead man’s chest– Yo-ho-ho, and a bot­tle of rum!”

in the high, old tot­ter­ing voice that seemed to have been tuned and bro­ken at the cap­stan bars. Then he rapped on the door with a bit of stick like a hand­spike that he car­ried, and when my father appeared, called rough­ly for a glass of rum. This, when it was brought to him, he drank slow­ly, like a con­nois­seur, lin­ger­ing on the taste and still look­ing about him at the cliffs and up at our sign­board.

This is a handy cove,” says he at length; “and a pleas­ant sitty­at­ed grog-shop. Much com­pa­ny, mate?”

My father told him no, very lit­tle com­pa­ny, the more was the pity.

Well, then,” said he, “this is the berth for me. Here you, matey,” he cried to the man who trun­dled the bar­row; “bring up along­side and help up my chest. I’ll stay here a bit,” he con­tin­ued. “I’m a plain man; rum and bacon and eggs is what I want, and that head up there for to watch ships off. What you mought call me? You mought call me cap­tain. Oh, I see what you’re at– there”; and he threw down three or four gold pieces on the thresh­old. “You can tell me when I’ve worked through that,” says he, look­ing as fierce as a com­man­der.

And indeed bad as his clothes were and coarse­ly as he spoke, he had none of the appear­ance of a man who sailed before the mast, but seemed like a mate or skip­per accus­tomed to be obeyed or to strike. The man who came with the bar­row told us the mail had set him down the morn­ing before at the Roy­al George, that he had inquired what inns there were along the coast, and hear­ing ours well spo­ken of, I sup­pose, and described as lone­ly, had cho­sen it from the oth­ers for his place of res­i­dence. And that was all we could learn of our guest.

He was a very silent man by cus­tom. All day he hung round the cove or upon the cliffs with a brass tele­scope; all evening he sat in a cor­ner of the par­lour next the fire and drank rum and water very strong. Most­ly he would not speak when spo­ken to, only look up sud­den and fierce and blow through his nose like a fog-horn; and we and the peo­ple who came about our house soon learned to let him be. Every day when he came back from his stroll he would ask if any sea­far­ing men had gone by along the road. At first we thought it was the want of com­pa­ny of his own kind that made him ask this ques­tion, but at last we began to see he was desirous to avoid them. When a sea­man did put up at the Admi­ral Ben­bow (as now and then some did, mak­ing by the coast road for Bris­tol) he would look in at him through the cur­tained door before he entered the par­lour; and he was always sure to be as silent as a mouse when any such was present. For me, at least, there was no secret about the mat­ter, for I was, in a way, a shar­er in his alarms. He had tak­en me aside one day and promised me a sil­ver fourpen­ny on the first of every month if I would only keep my “weath­er-eye open for a sea­far­ing man with one leg” and let him know the moment he appeared. Often enough when the first of the month came round and I applied to him for my wage, he would only blow through his nose at me and stare me down, but before the week was out he was sure to think bet­ter of it, bring me my four-pen­ny piece, and repeat his orders to look out for “the sea­far­ing man with one leg.”

How that per­son­age haunt­ed my dreams, I need scarce­ly tell you. On stormy nights, when the wind shook the four cor­ners of the house and the surf roared along the cove and up the cliffs, I would see him in a thou­sand forms, and with a thou­sand dia­bol­i­cal expres­sions. Now the leg would be cut off at the knee, now at the hip; now he was a mon­strous kind of a crea­ture who had nev­er had but the one leg, and that in the mid­dle of his body. To see him leap and run and pur­sue me over hedge and ditch was the worst of night­mares. And alto­geth­er I paid pret­ty dear for my month­ly fourpen­ny piece, in the shape of these abom­inable fan­cies.

But though I was so ter­ri­fied by the idea of the sea­far­ing man with one leg, I was far less afraid of the cap­tain him­self than any­body else who knew him. There were nights when he took a deal more rum and water than his head would car­ry; and then he would some­times sit and sing his wicked, old, wild sea-songs, mind­ing nobody; but some­times he would call for glass­es round and force all the trem­bling com­pa­ny to lis­ten to his sto­ries or bear a cho­rus to his singing. Often I have heard the house shak­ing with “Yo-ho-ho, and a bot­tle of rum,” all the neigh­bours join­ing in for dear life, with the fear of death upon them, and each singing loud­er than the oth­er to avoid remark. For in these fits he was the most over­rid­ing com­pan­ion ever known; he would slap his hand on the table for silence all round; he would fly up in a pas­sion of anger at a ques­tion, or some­times because none was put, and so he judged the com­pa­ny was not fol­low­ing his sto­ry. Nor would he allow any­one to leave the inn till he had drunk him­self sleepy and reeled off to bed.

His sto­ries were what fright­ened peo­ple worst of all. Dread­ful sto­ries they were – about hang­ing, and walk­ing the plank, and storms at sea, and the Dry Tor­tu­gas, and wild deeds and places on the Span­ish Main. By his own account he must have lived his life among some of the wickedest men that God ever allowed upon the sea, and the lan­guage in which he told these sto­ries shocked our plain coun­try peo­ple almost as much as the crimes that he described. My father was always say­ing the inn would be ruined, for peo­ple would soon cease com­ing there to be tyr­an­nized over and put down, and sent shiv­er­ing to their beds; but I real­ly believe his pres­ence did us good. Peo­ple were fright­ened at the time, but on look­ing back they rather liked it; it was a fine excite­ment in a qui­et coun­try life, and there was even a par­ty of the younger men who pre­tend­ed to admire him, call­ing him a “true sea-dog” and a “real old salt” and such like names, and say­ing there was the sort of man that made Eng­land ter­ri­ble at sea.

In one way, indeed, he bade fair to ruin us, for he kept on stay­ing week after week, and at last month after month, so that all the mon­ey had been long exhaust­ed, and still my father nev­er plucked up the heart to insist on hav­ing more. If ever he men­tioned it, the cap­tain blew through his nose so loud­ly that you might say he roared, and stared my poor father out of the room. I have seen him wring­ing his hands after such a rebuff, and I am sure the annoy­ance and the ter­ror he lived in must have great­ly has­tened his ear­ly and unhap­py death.

All the time he lived with us the cap­tain made no change what­ev­er in his dress but to buy some stock­ings from a hawk­er. One of the cocks of his hat hav­ing fall­en down, he let it hang from that day forth, though it was a great annoy­ance when it blew. I remem­ber the appear­ance of his coat, which he patched him­self upstairs in his room, and which, before the end, was noth­ing but patch­es. He nev­er wrote or received a let­ter, and he nev­er spoke with any but the neigh­bours, and with these, for the most part, only when drunk on rum. The great sea-chest none of us had ever seen open.

He was only once crossed, and that was towards the end, when my poor father was far gone in a decline that took him off. Dr. Livesey came late one after­noon to see the patient, took a bit of din­ner from my moth­er, and went into the par­lour to smoke a pipe until his horse should come down from the ham­let, for we had no sta­bling at the old Ben­bow. I fol­lowed him in, and I remem­ber observ­ing the con­trast the neat, bright doc­tor, with his pow­der as white as snow and his bright, black eyes and pleas­ant man­ners, made with the coltish coun­try folk, and above all, with that filthy, heavy, bleared scare­crow of a pirate of ours, sit­ting, far gone in rum, with his arms on the table. Sud­den­ly he – the cap­tain, that is – began to pipe up his eter­nal song:

Fif­teen men on the dead man’s chest– Yo-ho-ho, and a bot­tle of rum! Drink and the dev­il had done for the rest– Yo-ho-ho, and a bot­tle of rum!”

At first I had sup­posed “the dead man’s chest” to be that iden­ti­cal big box of his upstairs in the front room, and the thought had been min­gled in my night­mares with that of the one-legged sea­far­ing man. But by this time we had all long ceased to pay any par­tic­u­lar notice to the song; it was new, that night, to nobody but Dr. Livesey, and on him I observed it did not pro­duce an agree­able effect, for he looked up for a moment quite angri­ly before he went on with his talk to old Tay­lor, the gar­den­er, on a new cure for the rheumat­ics. In the mean­time, the cap­tain grad­u­al­ly bright­ened up at his own music, and at last flapped his hand upon the table before him in a way we all knew to mean silence. The voic­es stopped at once, all but Dr. Livesey’s; he went on as before speak­ing clear and kind and draw­ing briskly at his pipe between every word or two. The cap­tain glared at him for a while, flapped his hand again, glared still hard­er, and at last broke out with a vil­lain­ous, low oath, “Silence, there, between decks!”

Were you address­ing me, sir?” says the doc­tor; and when the ruf­fi­an had told him, with anoth­er oath, that this was so, “I have only one thing to say to you, sir,” replies the doc­tor, “that if you keep on drink­ing rum, the world will soon be quit of a very dirty scoundrel!”

The old fel­low’s fury was awful. He sprang to his feet, drew and opened a sailor’s clasp-knife, and bal­anc­ing it open on the palm of his hand, threat­ened to pin the doc­tor to the wall.

The doc­tor nev­er so much as moved. He spoke to him as before, over his shoul­der and in the same tone of voice, rather high, so that all the room might hear, but per­fect­ly calm and steady: “If you do not put that knife this instant in your pock­et, I promise, upon my hon­our, you shall hang at the next assizes.”

Then fol­lowed a bat­tle of looks between them, but the cap­tain soon knuck­led under, put up his weapon, and resumed his seat, grum­bling like a beat­en dog.

And now, sir,” con­tin­ued the doc­tor, “since I now know there’s such a fel­low in my dis­trict, you may count I’ll have an eye upon you day and night. I’m not a doc­tor only; I’m a mag­is­trate; and if I catch a breath of com­plaint against you, if it’s only for a piece of inci­vil­i­ty like tonight’s, I’ll take effec­tu­al means to have you hunt­ed down and rout­ed out of this. Let that suf­fice.”

Soon after, Dr. Livesey’s horse came to the door and he rode away, but the cap­tain held his peace that evening, and for many evenings to come.