Treasure Island By Robert Louis Stevenson Summary and Analysis Part III - My Shore Adventure (Chapters 13–15)

Summary

In Chapter 13 ("How My Shore Adventure Began") Jim recalls waking in the morning to find the ship becalmed southeast of what he now begins to call Treasure Island, a place of dismal-looking woods and oddly shaped hills, whose appearance he finds unpleasant. There is no wind, so the men must get in boats and row, hauling the ship several miles up the island's eastern coast and into a narrow strait between it and a smaller island (Skeleton Island) to be anchored in this haven. Jim, in the boat commanded by the boatswain Anderson, sees that the men are in a surly mood. It's a breezeless, hot day, and after all have returned to the ship, Livesey says the air smells of fever.

In the cabin, Trelawney's party holds a council, and Smollett says the crew will mutiny immediately if something is not done, but that Silver will keep them from it if he is allowed to take the men ashore for the afternoon. They call in Trelawney's servants, Hunter, Joyce, and Redruth, tell them what's going on, and all seven, including Jim, are armed with pistols. Silver arranges a shore party of thirteen in two boats, leaving six men (along with the squire's group) on board, and at the last minute Jim, on impulse, gets into one of the boats. This boat reaches shore before Silver's boat, and although Jim hears Silver calling to him, he jumps out and runs through a thicket, away from the group on shore.

Chapter 14 ("The First Blow") begins with Jim, on his own, exploring the part of the island on which he finds himself. He encounters vegetation, birds, and snakes that are unfamiliar to him. (The island seems to be located somewhere in or near the Caribbean; the snake Jim sees and hears is a rattlesnake, a native to America as Stevenson, who had spent some time in California and Nevada, would have known. Jim also identifies some of the trees he sees as live oaks, a sort of evergreen oak native to the southeastern U.S. and presumably to Caribbean islands as well.) Then, hearing voices approach, Jim crouches hidden and still, and then creeps to where he can overhear the conversation. There are two men, Silver and another called Tom. Tom is arguing with Silver against the pirates' enterprise, and Silver is trying to convince him to go along with them. But then all hear a loud, terrible scream, obviously a death-cry, and Silver tells Tom that it was Alan, apparently another who has tried to resist the pirates' business. Tom refuses Silver's advice and turns to walk away. Silver throws his walking crutch and knocks Tom down, then falls on him and stabs him to death. Jim, horrified, backs away and runs from the sound of the other approaching men, whom Silver has summoned with a whistle.

In his flight from the pirates (Chapter 15, "The Man of the Island") Jim encounters a wild, ragged Englishman, half-crazy, who says he is Ben Gunn, marooned on the island for three years. He has been living on goats, berries, and oysters; he asks for a piece of cheese. Speaking knowingly of the pirates, Ben Gunn convinces Jim (almost) that he wants to be of help to the squire's party in return for passage back to England — and that he'll be able to help. He tells Jim that he was part of Flint's crew when the treasure was buried, and was marooned by later shipmates, to whom he had told the story, when they were unable to find the treasure. Gunn also says that he is rich, a statement he does not explain and which Jim apparently takes as more of the man's almost incomprehensible raving. But just as Gunn has told Jim where his boat is hidden, by which he says they may make their way to the ship after dark, they hear cannon fire from the ship, then small arms fire, and then, soon, Jim sees the British flag flying on the island over the tops of trees.

Analysis

In this part, the reader's first concern is to get a clear picture of the island's geography and the ship's position in that context. Much of this is discussed in Chapter 17 as Silver explains the chart to Smollett, and more is discussed in Chapter 18. Treasure Island, as Jim's description of Billy Bones' chart shows it in an earlier chapter, is a roughly rectangular or oval piece of land, narrower at the northern and southern ends than in the middle, and about five miles wide by nine miles from north to south. The ship has approached it from the northeast at the end of Part II. The three hills that the men see at that time are called after the three masts of a ship as seen from off the bow, "Fore," "Main," and "Mizzen"; the central one, "Mainmast," is also called "The Spy-Glass" because it is the tallest and it was from here, Silver says, that a watch was kept when earlier pirates stopped at the island. During the night, the Hispaniola continues to sail in a southwesterly direction, so that when Jim wakes in the morning he sees the eastern shore of the island from a point somewhat south of its center.

Captain Smollett, following Silver's direction, has decided to go to the southern tip of the island, which is separated by a strait a little less than a mile wide from an islet (called "Skeleton Island"); the strait is so shallow that at low tide this islet is all but connected to the main island. Silver says there is a strong current moving westward across the southern end and then moving northward up Treasure Island's western shore, but there is no current in the strait, so it is in the shallow strait that they will take the ship to be anchored. As there is no wind this morning, they cannot sail into the strait. Thus the men have to get in boats and row, towing the ship a few miles farther south, around the southeastern corner of the main island, and then westward into the strait to the anchorage.

When they get to the strait, Silver directs the man at the tiller to steer through the deepest part of this channel; another sailor, taking soundings from the bow to determine the depth of the channel, finds that the water is always deeper than is indicated on the chart, and Silver explains that the ebb tide, as it rushes out, scours the bottom of the channel, carrying some sand with it and deepening the channel slightly each time. Forming a clear picture of all this is useful not only in reading Part 3 but also in later chapters, when the position of the ship changes.

As in Part II, character development is important here. Squire Trelawney has already (in Chapter 17) admitted his foolishness and apologized to Captain Smollett for it, and Smollett for his part has responded by taking part of the responsibility upon himself. Now the captain shows his cool head and good judgment, first by trusting Silver (whom he now knows to be planning a mutiny) to navigate the ship into the anchorage and then by suggesting that Silver take the men ashore, where he believes the sea-cook will do his best to prevent them from beginning the mutiny too soon. Smollett knows that this is in the mutineers' best interest, for they do not have the original chart, which could be destroyed quickly in the event of an immediate uprising, leaving them no better off than they ever were, for they cannot find the treasure on their own. And Smollett trusts Silver to gain control over his men — as no doubt he would do, except that some of the men in the shore party have not yet assented to join the mutiny and, while Silver is trying to persuade one of them, another of the pirates kills a second man. After Alan's scream, obviously a death-cry, no one on the ship can pretend that they do not know the situation, nor can Silver or any of the rest of the pirates delay the revolt any longer.

Jim's impulsive joining of the shore party is necessary for the plot (for he must discover Ben Gunn) and also for the further revelation of Silver's character, as Jim witnesses his cold-blooded killing of the reluctant sailor, Tom. But his action helps to reveal, too, the youthful aspect of Jim's character. His reason for jumping into the boat and going ashore at the last minute seems to be nothing but a combination of curiosity and of simple restlessness. He has been at sea for months, and he is sick of the ship. He knows that the six men he leaves behind (Smollett, the doctor, the squire and his group) will not need him in order to deal, if they must, with the six crewmen left behind by Silver; and he can be sure that Silver will not suspect him even when he runs away from the others as they reach shore, for this is the impulsive action of a boy. Of course, after Alan is killed, Jim, too, can no longer pretend not to know what's going on.

Jim's impulsive action also foreshadows a later, similar decision he makes for apparently similar motives — restlessness, curiosity, and a simple dislike of being confined. His leaving of the ship now is not as serious or (as the reader may see it) as dangerous as his act of escape that comes in Part V, but it is necessary in order that his later impulsive decision seem credible and in character.

An important new character is introduced here — Ben Gunn, the marooned man left on the island three years before by vindictive shipmates whom he has told about Flint's treasure but who cannot find it. Ben, a pirate himself when he sailed with Flint, has in his solitude returned to the piety of his youth; his mother warned him long ago (he tells Jim) that evil ways would bring him to grief, and he sees that they certainly have. Ben has gone a little crazy in these three years, but he is still shrewd enough to see a way for him to get off the island with some of the treasure and to be treated "liberally" by those he helps to find it. He does not lose any time in arranging to negotiate his return to England and his reward. And Ben's claim that he is rich, which Jim ignores here, gives the reader (although not Jim, apparently) a clue to a mysterious circumstance that puzzles both Jim and Silver in a later chapter.

Glossary

rolling scuppers under . . . Scuppers are openings in the sides of the ship that allow water to run off the deck; the Hispaniola's position and motion of the sea are causing it to roll back and forth sideways until the scuppers are under water.

booms spars extending from the masts to hold the bottoms of the sails outstretched.

blocks pulleys or systems of pulleys (in this case, for manipulating the sails).

manufactory factory; manufacturing plant. (The sort of factory Jim may have had in mind, in the eighteenth century, would have been something like a fabric mill, whose heavy looms operated with much noise and shaking.)

backstay a stay (heavy rope or cable used for support) extending aft (toward the rear) from a masthead to the side or stern of a vessel.

the ship [had to be] warped . . . To warp a ship is to move it by hauling on a line fastened to a pile, dock, anchor, and so on; in this case, the lines were fastened to the ship's boats and the ship hauled by its oarsmen.

conned the ship . . . To conn a ship is to direct its movements, specifically by giving directions to the helmsman, who operates the tiller and actually steers the ship.

the man in the chains . . . the crewman using fathoming lines to measure the depth of the water on either side of the ship's bow.

a strong scour with the ebb . . . To scour is to wash or clear as by a swift current of water; here the ebb (outgoing) tide is very strong and has cleared away a channel deeper than it was when the chart was drawn.

grog diluted alcoholic liquor, especially rum.

pikes weapons, formerly used by soldiers, each consisting of a metal spearhead on a long wooden shaft.

we'll fight the ship . . . we'll fight from the ship, using its weaponry.

gaskin a legging or gaiter (a cloth or leather covering for the instep and ankle).

by the stone A stone is a British unit of weight equal to fourteen pounds; hence, Jim is saying Ben Gunn may have all the cheese he wants.

catechism a handbook of questions and answers for teaching the principles of a religion.

chuck farthen on the blessed gravestones Chuck-farthing is a game, usually called "penny-pitch" in the United States, in which small coins are tossed or chucked to bank off a wall or obstacle of some kind, with the player whose coin lands closest to the obstacle winning and taking the others. Ben Gunn is saying his career in vice began with this mild form of gambling, apparently using gravestones in a churchyard as backboards. (Later, in a conversation with Livesey, Silver will use "playing chuck-farthing with my life" to mean gambling with his life.)

clove hitch a kind of knot used to fasten a rope around a pole, spar, or another rope; used figuratively here, it means a tight spot, a very difficult situation from which there seems to be no escape.

Union Jack the national flag of the United Kingdom.

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