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| Home | Reading Room TREASURE ISLAND

by Robert Louis Stevenson

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The Old Buccaneer


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.



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