The Man of the Island
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 that
and I saw a figure leap with great rapidity behind the
of a pine. What it was, whether bear or man or 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 me
murderers, before me this lurking nondescript. And immediately
I began to prefer the dangers that I knew to those I knew
Silver himself appeared less terrible in contrast with
of the woods, and I turned on my heel, and looking sharply
behind me over my shoulder, began to retrace 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
as fresh as when I rose, I could see it was in vain for
to contend in speed with such an adversary. From trunk
the creature flitted like a deer, running manlike on two
but unlike any man that I had ever seen, stooping almost
as it ran. Yet a man it was, I could no longer be in doubt
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 a man,
however wild, had somewhat reassured me, and my fear of
began to revive in proportion. I stood still, therefore,
and cast about for some method of escape; and as I was
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 him.
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
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
and awkward, like a rusty lock. "I'm poor Ben Gunn,
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
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
for raggedness. He was clothed with tatters of old ship's
and old sea-cloth, and this extraordinary patchwork was
held together by a system of the most various and incongruous
fastenings, brass buttons, bits of stick, and loops of
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
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,
a man can do for himself. But, mate, my heart is sore for
diet. You mightn't happen to have a piece of cheese about
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?"
"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
to look at me?" he asked.
"Why, no, not in particular," I answered.
"Ah, well," said he, "but I had--remarkable
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
on the blessed grave-stones! That's what it begun with,
but it 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
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
lowering his voice to a whisper--"I'm rich."
I now felt sure that the poor fellow had gone crazy in
and I suppose I must have shown the feeling in my face,
for he repeated the statement hotly: "Rich! Rich!
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
that found me!"
And at this there came suddenly a lowering shadow over
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?"
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 give
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,
that your squire would prove a liberal-minded one in case
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 to keep, and a suit 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
"Why," I cried, "the squire's a gentleman.
if we got rid of the others, we should want you to help
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
he and six along--six strong seamen. They was ashore nigh
week, and us standing off and on in the old WALRUS.
One fine day up went the signal, and here come Flint by
in a little boat, and his head done up in a blue scarf.
The sun was
getting up, and mortal white he looked about the cutwater.
But, there he was, you mind, and the six all dead--dead
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
quartermaster; and they asked him where the treasure was.
'Ah,' says he, 'you can go ashore, if you like, and stay,'
'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
morning all hands went aboard. 'As for you, Benjamin
says they, 'here's a musket,' they says, 'and a spade,
You can stay here and find Flint's money for yourself,'
"Well, Jim, three years have I been here, and not
of Christian diet from that day to this. But now, you look
look at me. Do I look like a man before the mast? No, says
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
and sometimes he would maybe think of his old mother,
so be as she's alive (you'll say); but the most part of
(this is what you'll say)--the most part of his time was
with another matter. And then you'll give him a nip, like
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
confidence--a precious sight, mind that--in a gen'leman
than in these gen'leman of fortune, having been one
"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
"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
If the worst come to the worst, we might try that after
Hi!" he broke out. "What's that?"
For just then, although the sun had still an hour or two
all the echoes of the island awoke and bellowed to the
thunder of a
"They have begun to fight!" I cried. "Follow
And I began to run towards the anchorage, my terrors all
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
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
"You see the mounds? I come here and prayed, nows
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
nor so much as a Bible and a flag, you says."
So he kept talking as I ran, neither expecting nor receiving
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
I beheld the Union Jack flutter in the air above a wood.
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