Summary and Analysis
Part VI - Captain Silver (Chapters 28–34)
When a torch is brought for light (Chapter 28, "In the Enemy's Camp"), Jim finds himself standing among the six remaining pirates, Silver and five others, one of whom was wounded in the attack. Jim fears that his friends are dead, and is reassured when Silver says they are not — that they bargained with the pirates after both groups found that the ship was no longer in the anchorage. Jim says he has killed Hands and O'Brien and hidden the ship. One of the others, Morgan, wants to kill Jim, but Silver argues against it and challenges the five men to defy him if they dare. They confer, and another man, Merry, claims their right (by rules of piracy) to hold a council. The five go outside, and Silver tells Jim that they intend to overthrow him. The two of them must stand together, he says, or the men will kill Jim unless Silver persuades them not to, and Silver will be hanged unless Jim testifies in his behalf for having saved his life. Jim agrees to this. Silver takes a drink of cognac and then asks Jim why the doctor has given the treasure map to the mutineers; he sees by Jim's expression that Jim has no idea why.
As Chapter 29 ("The Black Spot Again") opens, the pirates reenter the blockhouse and, with some trepidation, hand something to Silver — the "black spot," marked on a page young Dick has torn from his Bible (thus cursing himself with bad luck, Silver says). On the back, as Silver reads it, is the word "Deposed." Silver says that, according to the rules, they must list their grievances and he must have the chance to answer them. George Merry enumerates their complaints and Silver answers them strongly: First, it was they who decided to mutiny before the treasure was found; second, he bargained with the squire's group to gain the supplies in the stockade and, more importantly, the map; third, the reason he did not allow that group to be followed and killed was so that the doctor could visit the wounded man and Merry himself, who is sick with fever; and, finally, Silver will not allow them to kill Jim because they will need the boy for a hostage. The five men back down then and, when Silver says he resigns as captain, they re-elect him. Silver gives the black spot to Jim as a "curiosity," and they all go back to sleep.
Early the next morning (Chapter 30, "On Parole"), Livesey, coming to treat the wounded man and Merry, asks to have a talk with Jim. The men object to this, but Silver overrules them, makes Jim swear that he will not run for it, and then takes him out to talk with the doctor through the stockade fence, telling them he relies on them both to save him from hanging. Alone with Jim, Livesey rebukes the boy for running off two days before, but tries to get him to climb the fence and escape now. Jim refuses — he gave his word — and tells the doctor where the ship is. Then, calling Silver over to him, Livesey warns Silver, without giving him a reason, not to seek the treasure. Silver says that he must or the others will overpower him and Jim will be killed. The doctor advises Silver to look out for trouble, but tells him that he will do what he can in his behalf.
Chapter 31 ("The Treasure Hunt — Flint's Pointer") begins with Silver's telling Jim that his refusal to break his word and escape, along with the doctor's warning, are the first hope he has had of saving his own life. They eat the breakfast that the wasteful pirates have cooked, throw the leftovers on the fire, and Silver cheers the others up by saying they'll soon find the treasure and then have the upper hand, for they have the boats to take it to the ship, which they'll find when the treasure is secured, holding Jim as hostage. Jim is sure that Silver will turn on him should they succeed in finding the treasure, and he wonders why his friends gave Silver the map. They all set out in the two boats from the anchorage and, following the map's ambiguous directions, land the boats and begin to climb to the treasure site, Silver leading Jim on a rope. After a while they find a human skeleton, which they recognize as a former companion, one of the men whom Flint killed after burying the treasure. The bony arm is pointing in a direction that turns out to coincide with the compass reading given on the map, and they realize that Flint left the man there as a pointer. They begin to be superstitiously frightened; they know Flint is dead, but they fear his evil spirit.
In Chapter 32 ("The Treasure Hunt — The Voice Among the Trees") the pirates grow more leery of their enterprise, and Silver tries to reason with them. But suddenly, they hear a ghostly voice somewhere before them, first singing the song Flint was famous for, and then crying out in Flint's last words. Even Silver is shaken, but he says he wasn't afraid of Flint in life and will not let Flint's ghost scare him now. Then he notes that the ghostly voice produced an echo among the hills, and the group decides that it was in fact more like Ben Gunn's voice than Flint's. None of them — except for the young sailor, Dick, who is coming down with fever himself — is afraid of Ben Gunn, not even of his ghost. They continue to follow the treasure map, making a few false turns, and from Silver's demeanor Jim realizes that when they do find the treasure, the man will certainly turn on him as well as on Livesey and the others. But when they get to the place where the treasure should be, they find not the seven hundred thousand pounds that ought to be there but only a big hole. Someone else has found Flint's treasure first.
Discovering that the treasure is gone (Chapter 33, "The Fall of a Chieftain"), the men are dumbstruck. Silver recovers first, hands Jim a pistol, and leads him to a position across the excavation from the other five men, who now, after their first shock is over, turn openly on Silver. George Merry begins to lead a charge against Silver and Jim, but is shot down by a musket from the nearby forest, as is the wounded man. The other three turn and run, and Silver finishes Merry off with his pistol. Then Livesey, Gray, and Ben Gunn appear, with their muskets, and the doctor leads the others, including Jim and Silver, in a chase after the three pirates to keep them from reaching the boats. But soon, realizing that they are between the still-running men and the boats, they stop to rest, and Dr. Livesey explains what has taken place. Ben Gunn had long ago found the treasure and had, little by little, removed it to his cave, as he had told the doctor on their first meeting. Thus Livesey, when he discovered the Hispaniola removed from the anchorage, had given the map and stores to the pirates, for he knew the map would now be useless and Ben Gunn had plenty of food — salted goat meat — for the squire's group. That morning, after returning to Ben Gunn's cave, he took Gunn and Gray across to the original treasure site in order to meet the pirates. The ghostly voice had been Gunn's idea.
They reach the boats, destroy one, and take the other to where Jim has left the ship. After replacing the anchor and leaving Gray to guard the Hispaniola, the rest go to Ben Gunn's cave, where the squire, who reluctantly tells Silver that he has promised not to prosecute him, meets them. And then they see the treasure, huge mounds of coin and gold bars. Captain Smollett greets them and they all, even Silver, celebrate with a hearty meal.
For the next several days (Chapter 34, "And Last") all but the wounded Smollett work to transfer the treasure to the ship, posting a sentry to warn them of any attack by the three remaining pirates. Jim is set to the task of sorting and bagging the coins, which he thinks must represent every kind of money in the world. On the third night they hear a sort of singing from far away, which lets them know the mutineers are still alive, although either drunk or taken with fever. Later they hear a gunshot, also far away, and suppose the men are hunting. They decide they must maroon the three men on the island, so they leave powder and shot and a good store of other necessities. They supply the ship with water and salt goat and then lift anchor to leave. On their way through the narrows they see the three men kneeling, begging not to be abandoned, but they go on after telling them where to find the stores they left, and Jim reflects that the men are as well off there as they would be if they were taken back to England to be hanged. As the ship passes, one of the men on shore takes a shot at Silver but misses.
The ship is seriously shorthanded, so they make for the nearest port and cast anchor. Squire Trelawney, Livesey, and Jim go ashore, and when they return at daybreak, Ben Gunn confesses that he has helped Silver to escape. Silver has managed to take a sack of coins, worth about three or four hundred pounds, with him. Everyone is relieved to have seen the last of him.
Returning to Bristol, they share out the treasure. Jim closes his report by telling what happened to three of the five men who — along with himself — returned from the voyage. Captain Smollett retired; Gray pursued his profession of ship's carpenter, went into business, married, and started a family; Ben Gunn went through his thousand pounds in a few weeks and was given a post as lodge keeper in a country district. Jim says that, although other treasure — bar silver and arms — remains on the island, he'll never be part of another voyage to retrieve them, having had all he wants of Treasure Island.
The men Jim discovers in the blockhouse number six, and all six (he says) seem to have been awakened from a drunken slumber. Silver is less given to drink and debauchery than the others, and here he seems sober and quick-thinking (as usual) immediately. But he is now worried — "desperate," he says — that he will have lost both the treasure and his life, which supports the notion that he has also been drinking.
Silver has several good reasons for despair. Of the eighteen other potential mutineers that he began with, he is down to five men; one of these is injured, another sick with fever. They have all begun to blame him for the fix they are in, and he knows that they will eventually overcome their fear of him enough to depose him and perhaps kill him. He and they believe — until Jim tells them otherwise — that Hands and O'Brien have taken the ship and left everyone on the island marooned. Finally, Silver cannot understand why Dr. Livesey has agreed to the "treaty" and handed over the stockade, supplies, and treasure map, so he is deeply suspicious.
Note that Livesey believes that George Merry and young Dick have contracted their fever from breathing the foul swamp air ("bad air" being a literal translation of the contraction in Italian for mala aria); it was not until later in the eighteenth century that science began to realize that mosquitoes and not the air itself caused the disease. And, in actuality, there was no effective treatment for either malaria or yellow fever in Livesey's time. Both were sometimes fatal, sometimes not.
Character, too, is further revealed in this last part of the novel. Jim stands up to Silver, taking credit for hiding the ship (and, he says, killing both Hands and O'Brien, although it was Hands who killed O'Brien), but bursts into tears when Livesey reminds him how wrong he was to leave the stockade when Captain Smollett was powerless to stop him. Livesey becomes a bit more human for the reader when he urges Jim to climb over the fence and make a run for it, during their private talk — and also when he warns Silver to look out for trouble when they reach the treasure site and says he'll do the best he can for him, short of perjury, when they arrive back in England. Trelawney shows his essentially honorable nature when he berates Silver but says (because he has given his word to Livesey) that he will not prosecute him, although it seems fairly certain that Smollett, "stiff man" that he is, has not made any such promises.
Silver, of course, proves as he has all along to be the most interesting of the book's characters as the novel ends, and while his further development does not surprise readers, it is a strong and fitting finish for this great adventure story. In this final part, Silver shows all of his various sides: He is protective of Jim and he is powerful in countering the attempt to depose him — so powerful that the men re-elect him captain. He is proud, witty, sarcastic, and courageous in facing what promises to be his last fight, against the five pirates. He is despairing of his life — honestly so, the reader feels — when he speaks to Livesey and Jim; a few minutes later, he is eating with gusto and throwing the leftovers in the fire, as little concerned about the future as his thoughtless companions. He pales with superstitious terror to hear the "ghostly voice," but then recovers himself enough to reflect that he wasn't afraid of the living Flint, so why fear Flint's disembodied spirit? He shows every sign, as Jim knows, of being ready to cut the boy's throat along with those of all his friends when the treasure is found, but only a moment later he tosses Jim a pistol and prepares to fight it out with his own erstwhile shipmates, back to back with a youngster a quarter of his age. And he is unfailingly polite and cheerful, having lost his chance at the treasure and his own freedom after the three remaining mutineers have been chased off and marooned. Which is the real Silver? One guesses that they all are. He has said to Jim: "Ah, you that's young — you and me might have done a power of good together!" He means "good" in a different way from what Dr. Livesey might mean it, of course — but does he? There is a note of real regret in this remark, and some ambiguity, too. Silver long before cast his lot with outlaws, but it is hard not to believe that, had his circumstances been other than they were, he might have been as good a man on the right side of the law as either Smollett or Trelawney — perhaps even a better one.
It was usual for a boys' adventure book, in the 1880s, to draw a firm moral at the end, but Stevenson has resisted that impulse here. Yes, the good are rewarded at last and the bad punished, but neither the rewards nor the punishments are quite what they may have been in a more conventional tale. No one is executed and Ben Gunn, as much a pirate as any of the others, gets a chance at wealth, squanders it, and is then helped to a more or less comfortable life. Jim Hawkins, having had all the adventure he wants, declines to tell readers the details of his own rewards and/or punishments. And Silver, with a modest portion of the huge treasure (probably all he can carry — a lifetime's wages, as you may recall, for an ordinary merchant sailor) and with the help of Ben Gunn, who fears him greatly, manages to slip out of all the moral knots in which he is bound. The reader hopes, with Jim, that he will end his life in comfort somewhere in the company of his wife and parrot.
link a torch made of tow and pitch; here, Silver uses the word simply to mean "a light" (for his pipe).
to lose that much blunt, and be hanged into the bargain Blunt is old slang for money, cash; Silver is saying he thought he had lost the treasure and on top of that would be brought to trial and executed.
die a gentleman a gentleman of fortune, a pirate.
my cock my fine young man; the cock is the male of the chicken (in modern American usage, the rooster) and certain other birds, and in another sense the word can mean leader or chief, especially one with some boldness or arrogance. Silver is addressing Jim with a semi-affectionate, semi-ironical pet name, probably in reference to Jim's having just admitted that he hid the ship and did away with Silver's old shipmate Hands.
batten down your hatches to fasten canvas over a ship's hatchways (covered openings in the deck) as in preparing for a storm; here Silver simply means "shut your mouth."
dogwatch nautical term for either of the two duty periods (from 4 to 6 p.m. and from 6 to 8 p.m.) that are half the length of a normal duty period.
I never seen a pack of fools look fishier . . . gaping and goggle-eyed (like fish) in surprise.
keelson a longitudinal beam or set of timbers fastened inside the hull of a ship along the keel to add structural strength.
we've split upon Jim Hawkins Silver is opposing Tom Morgan's argument that Jim should be killed.
some by the board Silver means that some who challenged him had been made to walk the plank; that is, they had been forced to walk blindfolded along a board extended over the water from the ship's gunwale until they ran out of board and fell to their deaths. Contemporary pirate scholarship says there is no evidence that this was ever actually done.
hazing in nautical terminology, punishment or harassment, often by forcing to do unnecessary work.
you ain't dumb you are not silent; you can speak.
a gay lot to look at Silver means something like "a nice lot," spoken ironically; "gay" had not in Stevenson's time taken on a widely known sexual meaning.
don't vally bullying a marlinespike don't value [appreciate] bullying at all; a marlinespike is a pointed metal tool for separating the strands of a rope in splicing.
Fo'c's'le council forecastle council; the man is citing rules that allow the crew to take council among themselves.
back to back facing away from each other, with backs touching, as in holding off attackers or opponents.
stanch an old spelling of staunch: firm; steadfast; loyal. Silver is using the term in a figurative sense of the nautical meaning watertight and seaworthy.
calker a variant spelling of caulker: a substance, as a puttylike sealant or oakum, used to stop up cracks in a boat. Silver calls his drink of cognac a calker, because he is using it to prepare for trouble from his crew, figuratively rough weather.
lubber an inexperienced, clumsy sailor.
depytation deputation, a group of persons or a person appointed to represent others.
What fool's cut a Bible? To cut or tear a page out of a Bible is apparently considered very bad luck.
the rules Throughout this part, Silver and the others are referring to a set of rules or code of honor by which gentlemen of fortune have agreed to be bound; this was slightly different from ship to ship and from pirate captain to captain, but was essentially a democratic code specifying rights and responsibilities.
you want to play booty . . . Booty is used in the sense of any gain, prize, or gift; the man apparently accuses Silver of acting for his own gain rather than the common good of his crew.
plum-duff plum pudding, a rich dessert made of raisins, currants, flour, spices, suet, and then boiled or steamed.
aboveboard in nautical terms, above deck; here used figuratively to mean still alive.
I leave it to fancy where your mothers was . . . I leave it to imagination . . .; Silver is insulting their mothers without actually saying anything specific.
ague shakes trembling from a fever.
J. F. and a score below . . . Flint's characteristic signature: his initials with a line drawn below them and a knot (clove hitch) drawn on the line.
your sauce your impertinence, impudence.
a noo boarder . . . a new boarder; throughout, in the speech of Silver and others, the vowel sound in such words as duty and new is often rendered as oo, apparently to denote a difference in dialect between that of these uneducated men and that of the "gentlemen," Trelawney and Livesey. (While in American speech today this distinction is seldom made, in Stevenson's time the difference between the vowel sounds of "noo" and "new" would have been approximately the same as the difference made today in such pairs of words as "coot" and "cute.")
supercargo an officer on a merchant ship who has charge of the cargo and business dealings.
malaria an infectious disease transmitted by the bite of an infected mosquito; while malaria and yellow fever are two different diseases, their symptoms at the outset are similar, and the sailors would likely call either or both Yellow Jack.
separate peace a treaty or agreement that affects only one individual or group within a larger group.
I'll gammon that doctor . . . In nautical terms, to gammon is to lash up, make secure; Silver is using this figuratively, meaning something like "I'll make sure that doctor is acting in our interests."
holus-bolus all at once; in one lump.
look out for squalls watch out for sudden storms; that is, for sudden trouble.
sealed orders orders that are to be accepted before the person being ordered knows their substance or contents (such as Smollett was given when he signed on as captain of the Hispaniola without knowing the destination of the voyage); here, Silver means that he has taken Livesey's warning without understanding what kind of trouble the doctor has in mind.
fried junk a casual or slang term for fried salt pork.
cession ceding; giving over.
thwart a rower's seat extending across a boat.
marish an archaic term for marshy, swamp-like.
broom any of a group of flowering shrubs of the pea family.
a blue mug a blue face; apparently Flint's habitual heavy drinking of rum had resulted in broken capillaries in his face, making his skin in those areas appear to be purplish or blue.
guinea an English gold coin (last minted in 1813) equal to 21 shillings (a little over a pound).
pig-nut any of several bitter, astringent hickory nuts.
already ambushed already waiting in ambush.
his old negress Silver's wife, as Squire Trelawney reported early in the book, is a woman of color. Negress was in Stevenson's day an acceptable, polite term to designate a woman of African descent, whereas Trelawney's phrase, correct in the early twenty-first century, was condescending in earlier times.
something of a butt the object of jokes and teasing.
wain-ropes wagon-ropes; the ties by which a wagon is secured and drawn; Jim is saying he couldn't be dragged by oxen to another such voyage.