Meeting Long John

From chapter 8 of Treasure Island:

When I had done breakfasting the squire gave me a note addressed to John Silver, at the sign of the Spy-glass, and told me I should easily find the place by following the line of the docks and keeping a bright lookout for a little tavern with a large brass telescope for sign. I set off, overjoyed at this opportunity to see some more of the ships and seamen, and picked my way among a great crowd of people and carts and bales, for the dock was now at its busiest, until I found the tavern in question.

It was a bright enough little place of entertainment. The sign was newly painted; the windows had neat red curtains; the floor was cleanly sanded. There was a street on each side and an open door on both, which made the large, low room pretty clear to see in, in spite of clouds of tobacco smoke.

The customers were mostly seafaring men, and they talked so loudly that I hung at the door, almost afraid to enter.

As I was waiting, a man came out of a side room, and at a glance I was sure he must be Long John. His left leg was cut off close by the hip, and under the left shoulder he carried a crutch, which he managed with wonderful dexterity, hopping about upon it like a bird. He was very tall and strong, with a face as big as a ham–plain and pale, but intelligent and smiling. Indeed, he seemed in the most cheerful spirits, whistling as he moved about among the tables, with a merry word or a slap on the shoulder for the more favoured of his guests.

Now, to tell you the truth, from the very first mention of Long John in Squire Trelawney’s letter I had taken a fear in my mind that he might prove to be the very one-legged sailor whom I had watched for so long at the old Benbow. But one look at the man before me was enough. I had seen the captain, and Black Dog, and the blind man, Pew, and I thought I knew what a buccaneer was like–a very different creature, according to me, from this clean and pleasant-tempered landlord.

I plucked up courage at once, crossed the threshold, and walked right up to the man where he stood, propped on his crutch, talking to a customer.

“Mr. Silver, sir?” I asked, holding out the note.

“Yes, my lad,” said he; “such is my name, to be sure. And who may you be?” And then as he saw the squire’s letter, he seemed to me to give something almost like a start.

“Oh!” said he, quite loud, and offering his hand. “I see. You are our new cabin-boy; pleased I am to see you.”

And he took my hand in his large firm grasp.

Just then one of the customers at the far side rose suddenly and made for the door. It was close by him, and he was out in the street in a moment. But his hurry had attracted my notice, and I recognized him at glance. It was the tallow-faced man, wanting two fingers, who had come first to the Admiral Benbow.

“Oh,” I cried, “stop him! It’s Black Dog!”

“I don’t care two coppers who he is,” cried Silver. “But he hasn’t paid his score. Harry, run and catch him.”

One of the others who was nearest the door leaped up and started in pursuit.

“If he were Admiral Hawke he shall pay his score,” cried Silver; and then, relinquishing my hand, “Who did you say he was?” he asked. “Black what?”

“Dog, sir,” said I. Has Mr. Trelawney not told you of the buccaneers? He was one of them.”

“So?” cried Silver. “In my house! Ben, run and help Harry. One of those swabs, was he? Was that you drinking with him, Morgan? Step up here.”

The man whom he called Morgan–an old, grey-haired, mahogany-faced sailor–came forward pretty sheepishly, rolling his quid.

“Now, Morgan,” said Long John very sternly, “you never clapped your eyes on that Black–Black Dog before, did you, now?”

“Not I, sir,” said Morgan with a salute.

“You didn’t know his name, did you?”

“No, sir.”

“By the powers, Tom Morgan, it’s as good for you!” exclaimed the landlord. “If you had been mixed up with the like of that, you would never have put another foot in my house, you may lay to that. And what was he saying to you?”

“I don’t rightly know, sir,” answered Morgan.

“Do you call that a head on your shoulders, or a blessed dead-eye?” cried Long John. “Don’t rightly know, don’t you! Perhaps you don’t happen to rightly know who you was speaking to, perhaps? Come, now, what was he jawing–v’yages, cap’ns, ships? Pipe up! What was it?”

“We was a-talkin’ of keel-hauling,” answered Morgan.

“Keel-hauling, was you? And a mighty suitable thing, too, and you may lay to that. Get back to your place for a lubber, Tom.”

4 thoughts on “Meeting Long John”

  1. I truly loved that book as a boy.

    I’d forgotten that Silver’s amputation was “close off by the hip.” That makes every leg-bent-at-the-knee-and-tied-up-behind portrayal inauthentic.

  2. Here’s a piece of literary trivia. R. L. Stevenson informed his friend W. E. Henley (an amputee) that he was the original inspiration for Long John Silver.

    Henley was a noted English critic and poet, best remembered today for his poem, “Invictus,” which includes the lines, “I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.”

    A poem which, in my opinion, has done incalculable harm to millions of lives.

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