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Fifteen men on the dead man’s chest—
Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!
Drink and the devil had done for the rest—
Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!
At the urging of Squire Trelawney, Dr. Livesey, and others, a boy named Jim Hawkins records his story about Treasure Island. He omits the island’s exact location, as a portion of its treasure still remains buried there. Jim begins the story by recounting his first meeting with a ragged but imposing old seaman who shows up at the Admiral Benbow, the inn Jim’s father owns.
The old sailor throws down a few gold coins and moves in, staying at the inn for far longer than his payment covers. He hires Jim to stay on the lookout for a one-legged sailor whom he apparently fears. He terrorizes the others in the inn with his coarse sailor’s songs and heavy drinking. Livesy cautions the sailor about the dangers of drinking, but these warnings enrage the seaman, who threatens Livesey with a knife. Livesey subdues the man with his calm authority.
[I]f you keep on drinking rum, the world will soon be quit of a very dirty scoundrel!
On a cold January morning soon after, a tall pale man who is missing two fingers enters the inn. The man asks Jim if he has seen his mate Bill, or Billy Bones, as he is generally called, who is recognizable by a scar on one cheek. Jim knows the stranger is referring to the old seaman who is staying at the inn, and he tells the stranger that Bill will be back soon. Bill returns, and he gasps when he recognizes his former shipmate, whom he addresses as Black Dog. The two launch into a violent conversation that Jim cannot hear. The conversation ends as Billy Bones attempts to kill Black Dog with his sword, but he is cut short, as he suddenly succumbs to a stroke. Livesey cares for Billy in the inn and warns him to stay away from rum, which in his ill health would be lethal for him.
Jim attends to the ailing Billy, who begs him for a swig of rum in return for some money. Jim is offended, saying he wants only what Billy owes his father for rent. But he gives Billy one glass of rum. Energized by the alcohol, Billy says he must quickly get moving to outsmart his pursuers. He explains to Jim that the former crew of the ship he sailed on, under the now-dead Captain Flint, wants his sea chest. That night Jim’s father, who has also been ill, dies.
Returning from his father’s funeral, Jim encounters a sinister blind man who asks to be taken to Billy. Billy appears sickened to see the blind man, who hands him a black spot, which Jim has learned represents an official secret pirate summons. Reading the black spot, Billy enigmatically cries out that he has only six hours left. He springs into to action, but falls down, stricken with a fatal stroke. Jim is worried and calls for his mother.
Stevenson begins his adventure tale with the unusual device of a young male narrator, giving the narrative an innocent and straightforward tone. This tone eases our entry into the dark criminal underworld of pirates and murderers. Since most readers are typically unfamiliar with such shady figures, Jim’s wide-eyed awe of them mirrors our own perspective. Jim is meek and fearful of the pirates’ drunken, swaggering, coarse language and tendency toward violence. When he calls out for his mother at the end of Chapter III, we are reminded that he is a scared little boy, and indeed a world apart from the sailors. Stevenson’s emphasis on Jim’s childishness in these early chapters highlights the degree to which Jim matures throughout the novel. Later, Jim is no longer cowed by the grizzly seamen and holds his own against them. Here at the beginning, however, the contrast between the narrator’s innocence and the characters’ worldly experience helps set the stage for the rite of passage into adulthood that Jim later undergoes.
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