"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 it 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, now, that your squire would prove a liberal-minded one in case of help — 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 great shrewdness.
"Why," I cried, "the squire's a gentleman. And besides, if we got rid of the others, we should want you to help work 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 treasure; he and six along — six strong seamen. They was ashore nigh on a week, and us standing off and on in the old WALRUS. One fine day up went the signal, and here come Flint by himself 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 and buried. 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 was quartermaster; and they asked him where the treasure was. 'Ah,' says he, 'you can go ashore, if you like, and stay,' he says; '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 fine morning all hands went aboard. 'As for you, Benjamin Gunn,' says they, 'here's a musket,' they says, 'and a spade, and pick-axe. You can stay here and find Flint's money for yourself,' they says.
"Well, Jim, three years have I been here, and not a bite of Christian diet from that day to this. But now, you look here; look at me. Do I look like a man before the mast? No, says you. 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 you), and sometimes he would maybe think of his old mother, so be as she's alive (you'll say); but the most part of Gunn's time (this is what you'll say) — the most part of his time was took up with another matter. And then you'll give him a nip, like I do."
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 sight more confidence — a precious sight, mind that — in a gen'leman born than in these gen'leman of fortune, having been one hisself."
"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 to get on board?"
"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 rock. If the worst come to the worst, we might try that after dark. Hi!" he broke out. "What's that?"
For just then, although the sun had still an hour or two to run, all the echoes of the island awoke and bellowed to the thunder of a cannon.
"They have begun to fight!" I cried. "Follow me."
And I began to run towards the anchorage, my terrors all forgotten, 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 goat. 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 have meant. "You see the mounds? I come here and prayed, nows and thens, 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 chapling, nor so much as a Bible and a flag, you says."
So he kept talking as I ran, neither expecting nor receiving any answer.
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 of me, I beheld the Union Jack flutter in the air above a wood.