Treasure Island By Robert Louis Stevenson Summary and Analysis Part V - My Sea Adventure (Chapters 22–27)

Summary

Jim opens Chapter 22 ("How My Sea Adventure Began") by describing the casualties of the recent action. Five of the pirates are dead, a sixth so badly wounded that he dies despite Dr. Livesey's efforts to save him, and Hunter — with a fractured skull and broken ribs — will die that night without regaining consciousness. Captain Smollett is not fatally injured, but his wounds will keep him inactive for weeks. In the afternoon the doctor, heavily armed, sets out alone, and Jim tells Gray that he seems to be going to find Ben Gunn. Jim, cleaning the hot, bloody blockhouse, becomes disgusted and restless. Knowing he would never be given permission to go, he arms himself with two pistols and ammunition and leaves the stockade without asking. Avoiding the anchorage and the pirates' camp, he walks until he can see the Hispaniola, with her pirates' flag raised, still lying at anchor, and one of the gigs alongside. In the gig is Silver, talking with a couple of his men on shipboard. As the sun sets, Jim looks for and finds the rock Ben Gunn has mentioned, and near it Gunn's awkward boat, homemade of goatskins stretched over a wooden frame, with a double paddle to propel it. Jim has seen Silver head for shore in the gig (see the following Analysis) and, knowing the ship and the men on it now have no boat, he makes up his mind to cut the Hispaniola adrift. After dark, in a fog that allows him to see only the pirates' campfire ashore and the dim light from the ship's cabin, Jim takes the goatskin boat to the water and sets it down.

Trying to navigate the tiny, lop-sided vessel is frustrating (Chapter 23, "The Ebb-Tide Runs"), but the quickly ebbing tide carries Jim to the ship, where he grabs the hawser, feeling it taut as the tide pulls the Hispaniola upon its anchor. When a puff of wind moves the vessel slightly, causing the hawser to slacken, he cuts all but two strands of the rope and waits for another breeze to slacken it again. And, as he waits, he hears the voices of two men in the cabin — Israel Hands and one other, who had been in the fight earlier that day. They are drunk and quarrelling loudly. Jim cuts through the rest of the hawser and the schooner begins to turn slowly, threatening to overturn his boat. Furiously, he paddles alongside to the ship's stern, and then on impulse he grabs a line trailing from the ship and pulls his boat closer, until at last he can stand and look partially into the cabin through the stern window. There he sees Hands and the other man wrestling drunkenly but powerfully, each attempting to strangle the other. As he watches, the motion of the ship changes, and he perceives that it has been caught in the swiftly ebbing tide and is spinning toward the open sea. In a moment the two men aboard the Hispaniola discover, belatedly, the dangerous situation they are in and run on deck. Jim's boat, caught in the wake, is drawn along with the ship, and Jim is sure he'll be killed when the ship eventually hits the powerful breakers at the end of the narrows. He is powerless to do anything. He lies down in the boat and, despite (or perhaps because of) his fear, drifts into sleep.

In Chapter 24 ("The Cruise of the Coracle") Jim awakens after daylight and sees that he is floating in the little boat a quarter mile west off the southwestern end of Treasure Island, upon whose rocks and cliffs waves are breaking violently. He knows he'll be unable to land there; moreover, he sees "monsters" lying on rocks and dropping into the sea — sea lions, he will later learn. Allowing the current to carry him northward along the shore — his attempts to paddle nearly capsize the boat — he finally discovers that he can slowly guide his "coracle" closer to shore, and he feels that soon he'll be able to land. But, rounding a bend, he sees the Hispaniola a short distance away and is sure he'll be seen and captured.

The ship is under sail but behaving strangely, moving back and forth in the current but getting nowhere, and Jim begins to wonder if the two men aboard are still drunk. Eventually he paddles toward the ship, which he now guesses may be deserted. But as he approaches it he realizes that he is in great danger, for now the schooner moves toward him, bow first. As a wave lifts him in his boat, he grabs the boom of the ship's jib and hauls himself desperately up. A moment later the ship strikes and crushes the boat he has just left.

Hanging from the jib, which is swinging wildly, Jim catches the ship's bowsprit, crawls along it, and then falls onto the deck (Chapter 25, "I Strike the Jolly Roger"). Recovering, he sees no one at first, but then, with a swing of the mainsail, he sights Hands and the other man lying on the deck. The second man is obviously dead, sliding around as the ship bucks and jumps. Both men are surrounded with bloodstains, and Jim thinks they are both dead, but then Hands comes to himself, sees Jim, and mutters, "Brandy." Jim gets brandy and some food for himself from the cabin, which has been plundered and wrecked. Hands is a little revived, and Jim, telling the erstwhile coxswain that he, Jim, is now in command, runs the pirate flag down and throws it overboard. Hands, wounded in the thigh, sees that he has no choice but to help Jim sail the ship to the North Inlet, for neither of them can do so on his own and Jim will not sail for the anchorage near which Silver is camped. They agree on this arrangement and set off. Jim is quite pleased with himself for all he has accomplished, but he notes that Hands is watching him strangely.

Chapter 26 ("Israel Hands") begins as Jim and Hands, unable to anchor the ship, wait for the tide to come in far enough so they can safely beach her. Hands tries to get Jim to toss the dead sailor, O'Brien, overboard, but Jim says he is not strong enough. Then, after a short discussion on the unluckiness of the ship and the nature of death, Hands asks Jim to get him some wine from the cabin. He obviously wants Jim out of the way, so Jim goes below, then quickly sneaks back to where he can see Hands, injured but not as badly as he has pretended, crawl across the deck and retrieve a bloody knife from a coil of rope, hiding it in his jacket and then going back to where Jim left him. Jim reflects that Hands certainly means to kill him, but that he will probably spare him until the ship can be beached, for he will need Jim's help to navigate it.

Jim comes back with the wine, and Hands, acting very weak, asks him to cut a quid of tobacco, since he — Hands — has no knife. He says he is dying. Jim advises him to say some prayers, but Hands reckons this is nonsense. The tide is right, then, and they take the ship to the northern anchorage to beach it, seeing as they do so the wreck of another, abandoned, ship. Struggling to maneuver the Hispaniola into place at Hands' direction, Jim is distracted until, suddenly, he sees the coxswain moving toward him, knife in hand. Hands lunges and Jim lets go of the tiller to jump aside. The tiller, released, hits Hands in the chest. Jim pulls out one of his pistols and aims, but the weapon has been fouled with water and will not fire. Dodging and weaving, the two feint at each other. Then the ship runs aground and tips to the side, the deck at a sharp angle and the masts leaning out over the water. Both Jim and Hands fall over, but Jim gets to his feet and climbs the ropes to the mizzenmast, narrowly avoiding the knife. Now, seated on the mast's crosstrees, he primes and reloads both pistols, while Hands struggles slowly toward him, dragging his injured leg. Hands, however, seems to reflect that he is in a bad position, and he offers to surrender — but, even as he is speaking, he throws the knife suddenly, pinning Jim by the flesh of his shoulder to the mast. Hurt and surprised, Jim fires both pistols and drops them, and Hands falls dying into the water.

Seeing Hands' body lying under the shallow water of the bay (Chapter 27, "Pieces of Eight"), Jim tears free from the knife, returns to deck to tend his wound, which is not deep, and manages to heave O'Brien's body overboard to lie beside that of Hands. Then, as the sun sets, the tide turns, and a wind begins to rise, Jim does what he can to bring down the sails so that the ship will not be damaged by being blown about. When this is done, he drops down from the cut hawser into waist-deep water and wades ashore. Feeling proud of having recaptured the ship, he starts in the direction of the stockade, crosses a stream, and, seeing a fire in the distance, supposes it is Ben Gunn's camp. The moon comes up and he approaches the stockade, where he sees the embers of another fire dying in the yard. This puzzles him, and he climbs over the palisade and crawls toward the blockhouse cautiously. Then he hears from inside the snores of sleeping men and, reassured, enters the building, thinking to lie down in his own place and surprise his friends when they awaken. But he manages to step on one sleeper, and in the ensuing confusion (he hears Silver's parrot screaming "Pieces of eight!"), he realizes that he has stumbled into the pirates' stronghold; they have somehow taken it over while he has been gone. He turns to run but is held fast, captured by the pirates.

Analysis

Jim's decision after the attack to leave the stockade — for no apparent reason — is another instance of impulsive behavior, foreshadowed by his earlier having joined the shore party. It is necessary to the plot, in order for him to decide later to take Ben Gunn's boat and cut the ship loose, but, in fact, the whole episode would seem to have been contrived to allow Jim, as protagonist, really to act rather than simply to observe or follow orders. When he does so, Jim's reckless behavior callously leaves only three men at the stockade and only Trelawney and Gray able to defend against another attack, should one come. (Silver has taken one of that morning's attackers back to the ship, leaving only a few mutineers on shore for the time being, but Jim does not discover this until after his desertion of his friends.) Thus this instance of his impulsiveness is much more serious — and much more dangerous — than the previous one, and he will be reproved for it later; indeed, he will reprove himself.

This part contains a small editorial oversight: Jim sees Silver at the ship, talking with Israel Hands and the man whose name he'll later learn is O'Brien. Then he says that Silver has returned to shore in the jolly-boat. Actually, Silver is in one of the two gigs that the mutineers took to go ashore the previous day; the pirates later destroyed the smaller jolly-boat to make sure that Captain Smollett and his group couldn't use it again.

In order to follow the action of these chapters, you need to recall the geography of the island, the location of the ship in the southern anchorage, and the effects of the tides and ocean currents. Under cover of darkness and fog, Jim takes his little boat to the ship where it lies at anchor in the strait. When he cuts the ship loose from its anchor, the outgoing ebb tide sweeps both vessels eastward into the open sea. The strong westerly current then carries them both west across the southern tip of Skeleton Island and north along Treasure Island's western shore, with the ship initially moving faster than Jim's boat but then, under sail, caught between wind and current and going nowhere, so that Jim catches up with it in the morning. Having abandoned the boat and boarded the ship, with Hands to direct him, Jim steers north to a small cove (North Inlet) where he can beach the ship. They must wait for high tide to take it close enough so that it will be left aground when the tide goes out. The deserted and wrecked ship they see there has remained more or less intact, which lets them know that there is no strong current in the inlet.

Glossary

biscuit ship biscuit or hardtack, unleavened bread made in very hard, large wafers.

French leave an unauthorized, unnoticed, or unceremonious departure.

coracle a short, roundish boat of skins or waterproofed canvas stretched over a wood or wicker frame.

hawser a large rope used for towing or mooring a ship.

astern behind a ship.

yaw to swing back and forth across its course, as a ship pushed by waves.

made sure was sure; Jim uses the phrase in this sense, rather than in the more modern sense of "took action to ensure."

contrariety the condition of being contrary (in opposition); here, the wind and current are in the same direction.

jib a triangular sail secured to a stay forward of the foremast.

water-breaker a small water keg.

tiller a bar or handle for turning the rudder of a boat or ship.

forefoot the meeting point of the keel and the stem of a ship.

jib-boom the boom of the jib; the spar extending from its mast or stay to hold the bottom of the jib outstretched.

bulkhead any of the upright partitions separating parts of a ship.

gill a unit of liquid measure equal to ¼ pint or 4 fluid ounces.

a rank Irelander a low Irishman; "rank" may be used as an adjective in several senses, including "offensive-smelling" and "complete; utter;" Hands may be using it in either or both of these senses, to express his dislike of the Irish.

ankecher handkerchief.

Execution Dock a wharf on the north bank of the river Thames at Wapping, in London, the traditional place for execution by hanging of pirates.

dared not beach her Because Jim has cut away the anchor, they must beach the ship (ground it on a beach) in order to keep it stationary, but they must wait to do this until the tide has come in enough so that they can steer close to shore where the ebbing tide will not wash the ship back out to sea.

dirk a long, straight dagger.

Long Tom the "long nine," the ship's gun.

my long home the grave; a euphemism for death.

narrow and shoal narrow and shallow.

subaltern a subordinate officer.

a-blowing like a garding blooming like a garden.

starboard. . . larboard to the right . . . to the left.

luff to turn the bow of a ship toward the wind.

a red ensign a red flag or banner.

priming used here in the sense of the primer, the powder used to set off the pistol's shot.

mizzen shrouds the ropes stretched from the ship's side to the head of the mizzenmast to offset lateral strain on the mast.

crosstrees two short bars across a ship's masthead to spread the rigging that supports the mast.

I'll have to strike I'll have to strike my colors or take down my flag; Hands means he will have to give up and acknowledge that Jim has won.

younker a youngster.

cordage cords and ropes collectively, especially the ropes in a ship's rigging.

halyards ropes for raising or lowering flags, sails, and so on.

the downhaul a rope for hauling down a sail; the sail Jim wants to bring in is in the water, so that Jim is not strong enough to move it.

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