“Aboard ship he carried his crutch by a lanyard round his neck, to have both hands as free as possible. It was something to see him wedge the foot of the crutch against a bulkhead, and propped against it, yielding to every movement of the ship, get on with his cooking like someone safe ashore. Still more strange was it to see him in the heaviest of weather cross the deck. He had a line or two rigged up to help him across the widest spaces—Long John’s earrings, they were called; and he would hand himself from one place to another, now using the crutch, now trailing it alongside by the lanyard, as quickly as another man could walk.”
Jim makes these observations about Long John Silver shortly after the Hispaniola sets sail for Treasure Island. Jim’s vivid descriptions of Silver toward the beginning of the novel are significant because Silver is the only aspect of the journey that Jim describes with such attention to detail. This implies that Silver impressed Jim and left a greater impact on him than any other character in the text. Jim’s celebration of Silver and his skills is also important because it generates an even sharper betrayal when Silver leads the mutiny later in the novel.
“Here it is about gentlemen of fortune. They lives rough, and they risk swinging, but they eat and drink like fighting-cocks, and when a cruise is done, why, it’s hundreds of pounds instead of hundreds of farthings in their pockets. Now, the most goes for rum and a good fling, and to sea again in their shirts. But that’s not the course I lay. I puts it all away, some here, some there, and none too much anywheres, by reason of suspicion. I’m fifty, mark you; once back from this cruise, I set up gentleman in earnest. Time enough too, says you. Ah, but I’ve lived easy in the meantime, never denied myself o’ nothing heart desires, and slep’ soft and ate dainty all my days but when at sea.”
A “gentleman of fortune” is a euphemism for a pirate. Here, Jim overhears Silver tempting one of the few honest hands aboard the Hispaniola to become a pirate like him. Silver explains his life philosophy to the deckhand and pontificates on the benefits of piracy. While Jim and the reader are now supposed to be suspicious of Silver, his description of piracy is romanticized and full of adventure. As a result, the reader, like the deckhand, becomes briefly swept up in Silver’s depiction of the pirate life.
“I like that boy, now; I never seen a better boy than that. He’s more a man than any pair of rats of you in this here house, and what I say is this: let me see him that’ll lay a hand on him—that’s what I say, and you may lay to it.”
This portion of Silver’s speech to his fellow mutineers is significant because it illustrates that Silver, for all of his faults, has a genuine soft spot for Jim and sees him as a valuable companion. His speech is telling because he aligns himself with Jim as opposed to aligning himself with his fellow pirates. This is an important moment in Jim and Silver’s relationship because it occurs shortly before Jim decides that he cannot abandon Silver, indicating that Jim was impacted by Silver’s display of loyalty.
“I’m cap’n here by ’lection. I’m cap’n here because I’m the best man by a long sea-mile.”
Throughout the novel, Stevenson celebrates the pirates’ charisma even while he simultaneously casts them as the novel’s villains. Silver is confident in his own skills and his position as the elected captain. His confidence, more so than anything else, establishes his credibility to his testy crew. Silver’s skills as an orator and his charismatic manner of speaking impress the other pirates and they ultimately decide to stand by Silver even though they were moments away from staging a second mutiny. Stevenson expects his readers to be impressed by Silver’s command of the situation just like Jim is.
Silver hobbled, grunting, on his crutch; his nostrils stood out and quivered; he cursed like a madman when the flies settled on his hot and shiny countenance; he plucked furiously at the line that held me to him and from time to time turned his eyes upon me with a deadly look. Certainly he took no pains to hide his thoughts, and certainly I read them like print. In the immediate nearness of the gold, all else had been forgotten: his promise and the doctor’s warning were both things of the past, and I could not doubt that he hoped to seize upon the treasure, find and board the Hispaniola under cover of night, cut every honest throat about that island, and sail away as he had at first intended, laden with crimes and riches.
One of the major themes in Treasure Island is the corruptible nature of greed. Captain Flint killed his own men so that nobody would know the location of the treasure, Ben Gunn’s crew marooned him on Treasure Island because he was unable to lead them to the gold, and now Jim realizes that Silver will betray him if it means he can locate the buried treasure. Silver’s betrayal is especially hard for Jim to swallow because it occurs so soon after Jim saved Silver’s life by refusing to abandon him with Dr. Livesey.