It is generally understood that Stevenson designed this story for juvenile readers, and there can be no question of the enthusiasm with which the book has been received by the younger element, but there is no doubt that their elders press them hard in the same spirit. It is a frank telling of an old tale in what the author regarded as an old way, or, as he puts it in his versified preface,
” . . . Buccaneers, and buried Gold And all the old romance, retold Exactly in the ancient way.”
The special charm probably lies, however, in just that difference from the ancient that marks it as Stevenson’s way of telling. The period of the action is the middle of the eighteenth century. It begins in England, but the greater part of the narrative is given to the adventures on the mysterious island some-where on the Spanish Main where the pirate Captain Flint buried his hoard.
IN the last few months of my father’s life he had as a guest at his inn the Admiral Benbow, a brown old seaman whose face and hands were dreadfully scarred, and whose manners became the terror of the neighborhood. We were our-selves so cowed by his profane blustering that we durst not ask him for a settlement of his ac-count, and so he lived on, eating and drinking as much as he pleasedand it was a great deal in the way of drinkand sleeping in the room above-stairs where he kept his single piece of luggage, a sea-chest, and never paying so much as a farthing into the inn till.
Fearsome though he was, he seemed to be ever oppressed by fear. I learned later that he had good enough cause for it, but at that time I wondered, and was glad to earn the fourpence a month he paid me to “keep my weather eye open for a sea-faring man with one leg,” and let him know the moment he appeared. The man with one leg never came to the Admiral Benbow; but two other men did, and what resulted from their visits made this story possible. The first was addressed by our strange guest as Black Dog. They had some private conversation, which ended in a terrible battle that began in our parlor and did much damage to our modest furniture, and then took its roaring way to the road along which our guest pursued Black Dog with drawn cutlass. The visitor was the fleeter, and escaped. When the Captain, as we called our guest, returned, he called for spirits and fell in a fit before I could serve him. Then came Dr. Livesey on a visit to my father, who was then in his last illness. The doctor revived the Captain, helped him to his bed, and solemnly ordered him to forswear rum thence-forth, on pain of speedy death.
My father died soon after this, and hardly had he been laid to rest when the Captain had his second visitor. This was a blind man, and the result of the excitement attending his talk with the Captain, added to the fact that the doctor’s orders with regard to rum had been liberally disregarded, was a second fit from which recovery was impossible. So there we were in the inn, my mother and I, with this dead man who had been such a fear and burden to us. The blind man had given him a paper on which was a black spot and words the purport of which was unmistakable. They meant that he was allowed six hours, that is to say until ten o’clock that evening, in which to do some-thing his enemies wanted, or, refusing, to be killed. The inn was in a lonely place, apart from the hamlet, and my mother and I dared not remain there alone. We ran to the hamlet for help, but nobody dared come back with us. Then my mother announced that she meant to be paid for the Captain’s board and lodging. She made no doubt that he had money enough in his chest, and she would not be satisfied without getting from it what was our due.
Back to the inn we went, and opened the chest, which we emptied clean of its contents, for what we sought was at the very bottom. There we found a bag filled with gold coins and a packet of what looked like papers done up in oilskin. My mother insisted on getting her exact due, not a penny less or more; and by the time she had counted out what she wanted we heard the tap-tapping of the blind man’s crutch, and knew that the Captain’s enemies were at hand. Luckily we had bolted the door, and when there was an imperative knocking we paid no attention to it. Apparently the blind man had come alone, in advance of such party as was in league with him, for presently he went tap-tapping away. Then we hastened, mother carrying the money and I the oilskin packet. Why I took it I hardly know. It was a sudden impulse, and I obeyed it.
We were almost too late. From out the shadows, just after we departed, came a gang of villainous fellows who burst in our door, and we heard them go shouting and cursing through the house. Then my mother fainted and I had to hide her under a bridge, whence I heard all the tow-row in the inn. It appeared that the villains had gone straight to the Captain’s chest, and that they were enraged to find that somebody had been there before them. They found the remainder of the buccaneer’s gold, but that was not what they wanted. It was clear from their cries that they sought the packet I had taken, and they proceeded to wreck our rooms in their search for it. They were not done when the coast-guard arrived and scattered them. No prisoners were taken, but the blind man was accidentally killed in the confusion.
As soon thereafter as possible I took my packet to Dr. Livesey, finding him at Squire Trelawney’s house. We examined the contents of the packet together. There was an account-book with entries of receipts extending over many years, and this we interpreted as representing the share belonging to the Captain from marauding expeditions. But of greater interest than this was a map of an island, with a key showing just where the treasure accumulated by the notorious Captain Flint was buried. The latitude and longitude of the island were given precisely; its mountains and rivers were indicated, as well as minor landmarks, like tall trees, and the site of a stockade a little way inland that the pirate had built for defense. It must not be understood that Flint was the Captain who had lived at the Admiral Benbow. Flint was dead. Of that we were certain, and our Captain was Billy Bones, one of Flint’s companions. Manifestly he had obtained possession of the chart with a view to seeking the treasure, and others of the piratical crews that had sailed with him had been seeking to wrest it from him.
And now the chart was ours, as well as the treasure to which it was the key. For Squire Trelawney immediately proposed to provide a ship and crew to sail in search of it, and he was for having Dr. Livesey and me accompany the expedition as partners in the enterprise and its prospective profits. We agreed heartily to his proposal, and the Squire proceeded forthwith to Bristol on this business. Dr. Livesey cautioned him earnestly to keep the purpose of the voyage a profound secret, for the Squire was notoriously a gossip, and he promised faithfully to be mum; but when, some weeks later, we were aboard the Hispaniola, the beautiful schooner that he had chartered, we discovered that all the crew knew what we were about. Our Captain, Mr. Smollett, was much disgruntled, for he had been engaged to sail under sealed orders, and he liked it not to discover that we were treasure-hunters, and, worse still, to discover it by overhearing remarks of the crew. He told us bluntly that he distrusted many in the crewthere were twenty altogetherbut he could bring no direct accusation against anyone, and after some frank discussion, matters were allowed to rest as they were. Squire Trelawney was as sure of the crew as Mr. Smollett was distrustful. The men had been brought together mainly by the work of the cook, Long John Silver, as he was called, a veteran sailor who had lost a leg, he said, in battle for his country. I could not help thinking of the seafaring man with one leg who had been an unseen terror of Captain Billy Bones; but Silver was so good-humored and industrious that I speedily became fond of him, and as confident of his loyalty as was the Squire himself.
The outward voyage was without incident, save that the mate was lost overboard; but no sooner had we sighted Treasure Island than adventures began in grim earnest. It was the generous Squire’s humor to stand a barrel of apples in the waist of the schooner, from which anybody was welcome to help himself. On this evening, when the eagerly sought land was in sight, I went to the barrel, and, as it was all but empty, I crept into it bodily to hunt for an apple. The moment I was inside I heard Silver’s voice, and what he said made me sit still and hold my breath. He had brought the youngest man in the crew to the waist as a convenient place for a private conversation, and there they stood while the one-legged cook told that he had sailed with Captain Flint, and painted the glories of buccaneering in the rosiest colors, so as to tempt the sailor to join with the portion of the crew that, it appeared, was ready to mutiny, murder the owners, and get possession of the hart, and so of the gold.
It appeared further that Silver was the leader of the would-be mutineers, and that even now he had to exercise his authority to prevent a premature uprising. Hands, the coxswain, came to the barrel, and grumbled exceedingly that he must continue for as much as one day more to endure the tyrannous discipline of Captain Smollett. Long John showed him that Smollett was necessary to their nefarious enterprise, for he was the only man aboard who could lay a course, and the long and short of it was that the scoundrels were content to abide present conditions and wait until the cook should give the word for action; and it was evident that Silver feared that matters would go amiss because of the unruly haste of his companions.
As soon as they returned to the deck I scrambled from the barrel and contrived a speedy opportunity to lay my information before Squire Trelawney, Dr. Livesey, and Captain Smollett. That they were thunderstruck, and that the Squire manfully apologized to the Captain and agreed thenceforth to follow his lead unhesitatingly may go without saying. So we may pass over the uneasiness of the crew while we were slowly making our way into the anchorage. Now that we knew what was in their minds, it was only too clear that they were impatient to be turned loose on us, and that Silver was having a difficult time of it to hold his hounds in the leash. Meantime we had canvassed the situation to such purpose that we were assured that of the twenty-six men aboard, counting ourselves, there were nineteen who were probably disloyal. As I was a mere boy, this meant that we were six grown men to nineteen as bloodthirsty and reckless pirates as ever sailed the sea.
We did not come to anchor until noon of the day following the sighting of the island. By that time the atmosphere was so tense with impending mutiny that Captain Smollett resorted to the ruse of giving the men a half-holiday. He announced that as many as chose to do so might spend the afternoon on land, and after a deal of disputing, thirteen were told off to go ashore. Then I committed the first of several follies of which I was guilty while at the island, by jumping into one of the small boats just as it was about to leave the schooner’s side. My presence was noticed, of course, by Silver, who commanded one of the boats, and by all the others, but nothing unpleasant was said of it while we were making toward the land. Nevertheless, such a terror of them came upon me during this brief trip that, the moment my boat touched the shore, I leaped out and dashed into the forest at full speed.
I heard Silver calling to me, but that made me run the faster, and I halted only when I was out of breath, and hid myself under a tree whose branches came close to the ground. Presently I heard voices and, peering forth, beheld Silver and another in earnest conversation. It appeared that this man was, unknown to Captain Smollett, a loyal sailor, and that Silver was trying to persuade him to join the mutineers. The man was not to be persuaded, and while they talked we were all startled by a piercing scream.
“That,” said Silver significantly, “was probably Alan,” naming another loyal sailor.
Upon that the man whom Silver sought to persuade revolted utterly, not from us, but from the mutineers. “You’ve killed Alan, have you?” said he. “Kill me, too, if you can; but I defies you.”
He turned away to go back to the boats. Long John laid hold of a tree, balanced himself thus on his one leg, and hurled his crutch at the sailor. The missile struck him fair in the neck and felled him. The cook hopped after him and buried a knife twice up to the hilt in his defenseless body. Then he whistled as a signal for the other men to come up, and I bolted inland as fast as my legs could take me.
I did not observe which way I went, but when I came to a pause I found myself confronted by a strangely dressed and more strangely acting man. At first he was shy of me, but presently we fell into conversation, and I learned that his name was Ben Gunn, and that he had been marooned on the island three years before. Little else could I learn, save that he knew Flint’s treasure was buried on the island, for he was distrustful, not to say crack-brained, and I could not induce him to try to go with me to the Hispaniola, although he did tell me of the where-abouts of a boat that he had made. While we were still talking, a cannon roared, and I made certain that fighting had begun. Ben Gunn told me where to find the stockade, and off I set with no more than a vague idea that it would afford me shelter. There was small difficulty in finding it, for the cannon-balls fired from the long nine on board the schooner were aimed at it; but while they served well as guides, they also deterred me from venturing to climb the fence, for now and again they dropped inside it.
The British flag was flying from the top of the blockhouse inside the stockade, by which I knew that my friends had come ashore and taken possession, and that the bombardment was conducted by the mutineers, who had now run up the black Jolly Roger on the Hispaniola. It proved, when I understood the facts, that my desertion, while interpreted truly as a foolish boy’s escapade, had determined Dr. Livesey and the others to go ashore also while there was opportunity. They had made several trips in the one small boat left with the schooner, carrying arms, ammunition, and provisions, and had made the stockade before Silver’s party discovered them, although the long nine had been so well aimed as to sink their boat on the last trip and with it the best part of the food they had taken.
The bombardment ceased about sunset, and then I climbed over the fence and told my friends what had befallen me. One of our men had been killed in the course of the bombardment, but his place was filled by another whom Captain Smollett had won over from those who did not go ashore with Silver. Next morning came Silver with a flag of truce, by virtue of which he was permitted to climb over the palisade and have parley with us. He offered terms that were fair enough on their face, but Captain Smollett was not one to surrender to a pirate. His reply was to the effect that the only terms he would consider would be the unconditional surrender of the mutineers on his guaranty that they should have a fair trial when we reached England. As that meant hanging for every man-Jack of them, Silver was not inclined to accept, and he hobbled away. The attack came almost at once, and it was a fierce conflict that narrowly missed making an end of us. We were well armed with muskets, and fired from port-holes in the blockhouse, but they were equally well armed and far outnumbered us. Several of them actually climbed over the palisade in the face of our fire and got as far as the house, but they were driven off; and when we took account of the situation at the end of the battle, we found that five of the mutineers had been killed, and one on our side. But the Captain and one other were severely wounded, so that our effective fighting force was reduced to four. The enemy still counted nine, as we understood, though at a later time we learned that one had been mortally wounded by the Squire, who shot at those left on the schooner while he was in the small boat making the last trip to land.
There was no more fighting that day. Early the next morning Dr. Livesey, after a consultation with the Captain and the Squire, quietly left the stockade and disappeared in the forest. I knew not what to make of this strange procedure, and, by the time the hot afternoon was drawing to a close, it led me to commit another act of folly. If the doctor could go away, why should not I? It was inexpressibly foolish, but, boy that I was, I watched my opportunity, and slipped unseen away. I had no definite purpose at first, but presently thought it would be well to see whether Ben Gunn had really made a boat; and I went by a roundabout way to the spot where he said he had hidden it. There it was, the rudest craft imaginable, but it would float, as I found by trying it, and then it occurred to me that I would paddle to the schooner and cut her adrift. It was after night-fall, but I knew the Hispaniola’s position by a light in her cabin window, by which I inferred that at least one man was aboard. I was no sooner launched than I discovered that by no manner of skill could I guide the coracle, this being the only name by which I can classify Ben Gunn’s strange craft; and had not the tide borne me straight to the schooner I might have floated upon the sea for an indefinite period. But luck, if I may say so, was with me. I drifted to the schooner and laid hold of her hawser. Two men were aboard, as I knew from their voices, and they were quarreling savagely. One of them was Coxswain Hands. I cut the hawser through, and tried to regain the shore. Despite my most patient and hardest efforts, the coracle persisted in turning around and around, and all the progress I made was such as was caused by the tide, which was on the ebb. At last, despairing and worn out, I lay down in my craft and fell asleep.
When I awoke it was day, and not half a mile distant was the Hispaniola, with some of her sails partly up, yawing and dipping in a way that showed she was unguided. We were now on the side of the island opposite to the anchorage, and high hills lay between. I was possessed with the utmost desire to gain the schooner, but I was as powerless as before to propel the coracle. I did find, however, how to guide it a bit, and, as wind and tide again favored me, I succeeded in making the Hispaniola after some hours of drifting. I found Hands and his companion lying motionless on deck, silent witnesses of the ferocity of their quarrel; but Hands was not dead, and I revived him with brandy. The other man was cold.
Hands proposed a truce, to the terms of which I felt bound to agree, for I was helpless without him, and he could do nothing without my assistance. I bound up his wounds and brought him refreshments, and he directed me how to sail the schooner. It was agreed that we should beach her in a handy place, and we found one before sunset. By that time Mr. Hands had re-covered remarkably, and I perceived that he meant to break our truce at the first convenient opportunity. So I was on the watch for him, and was in time to leap, just before we grounded, when I saw him making at me with a dirk in his hand. I let go the tiller suddenly. It swung around and knocked him flat, but in a moment he was up and after me. I tried to shoot him, but the priming of my pistols had been dampened during my voyage in the coracle, and, bemoaning my stupidity in not having reprimed them long before this emergency arose, I made for the shrouds and climbed to the cross-trees. Thence I looked down at him where he stood glaring up at me.
But, wounded though he was, Mr. Hands was not yet defeated. He began laboriously to climb after me. I reprimed the pistols then, and warned him of what would happen; but still he came on. The vessel had grounded and now lay heeled over, so that water was directly underneath us. He paused before he had come within reach, and affected to parley, confessing that we had come to an impossible situation with regard to each other; but, of a sudden, he drew his arm back to the shoulder and then thrust it swiftly forward. His dirk flew at me, caught me in the shoulder, and pinned me to the mast. At the same instant, whether it was done consciously I hardly know, my pistols went off, both of them, and both dropped from my hands into the sea. I had not aimed, of that I am sure, but my pistols were not the only things that dropped; for Mr. Hands fell from the rigging, the water splashed and foamed a bit, and when it had quieted I saw his body writhing in death on the sandy bottom.
I lost no time in freeing my shoulder, descending, leaving the schooner, and setting out overland to find the stockade. It was a long, toilsome tramp, and night was far spent when at last I came to it. All was quiet, and no sentry hailed me as I climbed the fence. Snores from within the blockhouse reassured me, and I made my way in, when I was greeted with a shrill cry, “Pieces of eight! pieces of eight!” and recognized the abominable voice of Silver’s parrot, which accompanied him on all his journeyings. The sleepers were instantly aroused, and I found myself in the hands of the enemy. There were Silver and five others, all that were left alive of the buccaneers, but they were quite enough for me. And what had become of my friends? For not only was Silver in possession of the stockade, but he had also the chart showing the spot where the treasure was buried. I had little occasion for speculation, as the men were for killing me forthwith, but Silver saved me, speaking of me as a hostage. This was really his way of casting an anchor to windward, for he was in disfavor with his men, and it took all his capacity for command to keep himself in power.
That he did well for himself in sparing me was soon demonstrated. On the following morning, with chart and compass, which he had obtained in return for permitting my friends to leave the stockade unmolested, he directed the party in the search for the treasure. The spot was found about midday, but, behold, it was an empty trench. The buccaneers leaped crazily into it and pawed over the dirt, turning up thus one piece of gold worth two guineas. Enraged beyond endurance, the five leaped out and made to slay both Silver and me, for they accused him of having played them false; but before they could fire, there were shots from the bushes near that tumbled two of them into the trench, dead. The others fled for their lives. Then came the doctor, Ben Gunn, and one of our men, each with a smoking musket. They had lain in ambush, anticipating just what happened, for the doctor had discovered that I had fallen into Silver’s hands.
Dr. Livesey had left the stockade on the morning of my unwise desertion to find Ben Gunn. Succeeding, he had made Gunn an ally, and found that in the course of his three years’ solitary residence on the island he had unearthed the treasure and conveyed it all to a cave far up on a mountainside. There it was now, with Squire Trelawney and the wounded Captain guarding it, coins of various realms to the value of seven hundred thousand pounds. My escapade was forgiven when I told my friends how I had beached the schooner in a safe place, and for many days our little party was busy in transferring the treasure to the vessel’s hold. We spared Silver because he had spared me, and, moreover, none of us was for cold-blooded butchery; but we left the three live buccaneers marooned, with an abundance of ammunition, some food, and tobacco. Silver, however, did not go with us to England. As we were short-handed, we had to sail for the nearest port on the Spanish Main to pick up a crew. While we were there Silver stole a few hundred pounds’ worth of our treasure and made off with it, and we made no effort to pursue him. We never heard of him after-ward. Having arrived safely home, we divided the gold and disposed of it to our several uses, each in his own way.