Treasure Island: Chapter XV

Author: Jane Austen

Format: online reading

Category: Novel

Posted on 2007-05-11, updated at 2007-05-27. By anonymous.


  • Author: Jane Austen

FROM the side of the hill, which was here steep and stony a spout of gravel was
dislodged, and fell rattling and bounding through the trees. My eyes turned instinctively
in the direction, and I saw a figure leap with great rapidity behind the trunk of a pine.
What it was, whether bear or man c monkey, I could in no wise tell. It seemed dark and
shaggy; more I knew not. But the terror of this new apparition brought me to a stand.

I was now, it seemed, cut off upon both sides; behind m the murderers, before me this
lurking nondescript. An immediately I began to prefer the dangers that I knew to those I
knew not. Silver himself appeared less terrible in contract with this creature of the
woods, and I turned on my heel, and looking sharply behind me over my shoulder, began to
retract my steps in the direction of the boats.

Instantly the figure reappeared, and, making a wide circuit began to head me off. I was
tired, at any rate; but had I bee as fresh as when I rose, I could see it was in vain for
me to contend in speed with such an adversary. From trunk 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. Yet a 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 of calling for
help. But the mere fact that he was man, however wild, had somewhat reassured me, and my
fear of Silver began to revive in proportion. I stood still, therefore and cast about for
some method of escape; and as I was so thinking, the recollection of my pistol flashed
into my mind. As soon as I remembered I was not defenceless, courage glowed again in my
heart; and I set my face resolutely for this man of the island, and walked briskly towards

He was concealed by this time, behind another tree trunk but he must have been watching
me closely, for as soon as I began to move in his direction he reappeared and took a step
to meet me. Then he hesitated, drew back, came forward again, and at last, to my wonder
and confusion, threw himself on his knees 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 a rusty lock.
`I'm poor Ben Gunn, I am; and I haven't spoke with a Christian these three years.'

I could now see that he was a white man like myself, and that his features were even
pleasing. His skin, wherever it was exposed, was burnt by the sun; even his lips were
black; and his fair eyes looked quite startling in so dark a face. Of all the beggar-men
that I had seen or fancied, he was the chief for raggedness. 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 of the most various and incongruous fastenings, brass buttons, bits
of stick, and loops of tarry gaskin. About his waist he wore an old brass-buckled leather
belt, 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 punishment common
enough among the buccaneers, in which the offender is put ashore with a little 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 a piece of cheese about you,
now? No? Well, many's the long night I've dreamed of cheese - toasted, mostly - and woke
up again, and here I were.'

`If ever I can get 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 a childish pleasure in
the presence of a fellow-creature. But at my last words he perked up into a kind of
startled slyness.

`If ever you can get aboard again, says you?' he repeated

`Why, now, who's to hinder 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 lived that rough
as you'd be ashamed to hear of. Now, for instance, you wouldn't think 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, pious boy, and
could rattle off my catechism that fast, as you couldn't tell one word 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 went further'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 all out in this here lonely island, and I'm back on piety. You don't catch
me tasting rum so much; but just a thimbleful for luck, of course, the first chance I
have. I'm bound I'll be good, and I see the way to. And, Jim' - looking all 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 I suppose I
must have shown the feeling in my face, for he repeated the statement hotly:--

`Rich! rich! I says. And I'll tell you what: I'll make a man of you, Jim. Ah, Jim,
you'll bless your stars, you will, you was the first that found me!'

And at this there came suddenly a lowering shadow over his face; and he tightened his
grasp upon my hand, and raised a forefinger threateningly before my 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 an ally, and I
answered him at once.

`It's not Flint's ship, and Flint is dead; but I'll tell you true, as you ask me -
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 gave 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 whole story of our
voyage, and the predicament in which we found ourselves. He heard me 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't you? 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-minded one in case of help - him being
in a clove hitch, as you remark?'

I told him the squire was the most liberal of men.

`Ay, but you see,' returned Ben Gunn, `I didn't mean giving me a gate to keep, and a
shuit of livery clothes, and such; that's not my mark, Jim. What I mean is, would he be
likely to come down to the toon of, say one thousand pounds 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 the others,
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. I were in
Flint's ship when he buried the treasure; he and six along - six strong seamen. They were
ashore nigh on a week, and us standing off and on in the old Walrus. One fine day up went
the signal, and here come Flint by himself in a little boat, and his head done up in a
blue scarf. The sun was getting up, and mortal whit he looked about the cut-water. But,
there he was, you mind, and the six all dead - dead and buried. How he done it, not a man
aboard us could make 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 him where the
treasure was. ``Ah,'' say he, ``you can go ashore, if you like, and stay,'' 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'n was displeased at
that; but my messmates were all of a mind, and landed. Twelve days they looked for it, and
every day they had the worse word for me, until one fine morning all hands went aboard.
``As for you, Benjamin Gunn,'' says they, here's a musket,'' they says, ``and a spade, and
pick-axe. You can stay here, and find Flint's money for yourself,'' they says.

`Well, Jim, three years have I been here, and not a bite of Christian diet from that
day to this. But now, you look here; look at me. Do I look like a man 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 he weren'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 a prayer (says you), and
sometimes he would, maybe, think of his old mother, so be as she's alive (you'll say); but
the most part of Gunn's time (this is what you'll say) - the most part of his time Was
took up with another matter. And then 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'lemen of fortune, having been one himself.'

`Well,' I said, `I don't understand one word that you've been saying. But that'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 made with my
two hands. I keep her under the white rock. If the worst come to the worst, 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 the echoes 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; while, close 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 with you!
Theer's where I killed my first goat. They don't come down here now; they're all
mast-headed on them mountings for the fear of Benjamin Gunn. Ah! and there's the cemetery'
- cemetery, he must have meant. `You see the mounds? I come here and prayed, nows and
thens, when I thought maybe a Sunday would be about doo. It weren't quite a chapel, but it
seemed more solemn like; and then, says you, Ben Gunn was short-handed - no chapling, nor
so much as a Bible and 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 of small arms.

Another pause, and then, not a quarter of a mile in front of me, I beheld the Union
Jack flutter in the air above a wood.

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More on This Book:
  1. Treasure Island: Chapter XXX
  2. Treasure Island: Chapter XXIX
  3. Treasure Island: Chapter XXVIII
  4. Treasure Island: Chapter XXVII
  5. Treasure Island: Chapter XXVI
  6. Treasure Island: Chapter XXV
  7. Treasure Island: Chapter XXIII
  8. Treasure Island: Chapter XXII
  9. Treasure Island: Chapter XXI
  10. Treasure Island: Chapter XX
  11. Treasure Island: Chapter XIX
  12. Treasure Island: Chapter XVIII
  13. Treasure Island: Chapter XVII
  14. Treasure Island: Chapter XVI
  15. Treasure Island: Chapter XIV
  16. Treasure Island: Chapter XIII
  17. Treasure Island: Chapter XI
  18. Treasure Island: Chapter X
  19. Treasure Island: Chapter IX
  20. Treasure Island: Chapter VIII
  21. Treasure Island: Chapter VII
  22. Treasure Island: Chapter VI
  23. Treasure Island: Chapter V
  24. Treasure Island: Chapter IV
  25. Treasure Island: Chapter II
  26. Treasure Island: Chapter III
  27. Treasure Island: Chapter I
  28. Treasure Island: Chapter XII
  29. Treasure Island: Chapter XXIV

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