I want to say in advance that I have taken certain liberties with the original storyline of Treasure Island to better suit the characters of the story. I have also taken liberties with the characters; think of them as anthros in the likeness of Thundercats or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. If those familiar with the book this was based on, or the characters as they would be in their normal anatomy (i.e. mostly quadrupedal) find this strange, well, at least you've been warned.
My name is Balto. Balto Hawkins. I grew up at the Admiral Benbow Inn, which was owned by my mother. She had her paws pretty full raising me without the help of my father, who had gone away when I was a pup about three months old, and sometimes strangers distrusted her for being a wolf. But she managed to run the inn smoothly and neatly enough to draw, if not a constant flow of customers, enough to provide us with the income we needed to get by.
I spent most of my time working at the inn doing various chores, but when I had free time I would go down to the harbor and look at ships. I liked to think that maybe, just maybe I might bump into my father, whom my mother said had gone away on a winter voyage because the inn was seriously in debt. He had been hoping to come back in a few months with enough money to pay off our loans, but no one had seen him since. By the time I was thirteen, my trips to the harbor were more out of an interest in ships than any hope of finding him, but I never stopped thinking in the back of my mind that maybe someday he would get off one of those ships and come home. Would he recognize me? Would I even remember him? I only knew him by his painting on the wall and by what Mother said about him, which wasn't much.
One day as I was cleaning tables in the dining room, a dog came in dragging a sea chest in a hand cart and carrying the usual waft of tar, tobacco, sea salt, and rum. He had fur as brown as the leather vest he wore, a tall strong figure, and a somewhat generous waist. I noticed a saber cut on his left cheek and briefly wondered how it had gotten there. He looked around and then sang in a high, cracked voice,
"Fifteen men on a dead man's chest,
Yo, ho, ho, and a bottle of rum!"
He looked straight at me and called roughly for a glass of rum. Before I could fetch it for him, he snatched one from another guest and gulped it down. I quickly ran to the tap and filled two mugs- one to replace the guest's, the other to keep handy in case the greedy newcomer wanted seconds. I was used to unruly sailors coming in, but mother always said to treat them with courtesy as long as they didn't break anything. I suspect this was because she had one of those looks that could make all but the rowdiest poltroons sober up at least a little. And if that didn't work, there was the gun she kept behind the counter (never loaded, but they never knew).
I ran back to the door and replaced the guest's drink with a quiet apology. The old sailor finished his drink and looked down at me. "This be a handy cove," he said with a pleasant growl in his voice. "Much company, mate?"
I shook my head. "Hardly any at the moment, sir," I replied.
He laughed. "Well then, this be just the place I need!" He strode over to the counter as I followed behind. "I be a plain man," he said as he walked. "Bacon, eggs, and rum is what I want, and that cliff fer watchin' ships."
"That should be quite easy, sir," I replied, running the empty rooms through my head. "I think we have a nice room looking right in that direction."
He beamed. "Right perfect," he growled. "But enough o' this 'sir' talk. Call me captain."
"Aye, captain," I agreed.
Mother came in from the kitchen wiping her paws on her apron. "Balto," she said in that calm voice of hers, "I see we have a guest."
"Yes, mother," I nodded.
"Yer boy here was jus' telling me you've a room lookin' out to sea."
Mother checked the list she always kept on the counter. "Yes we do," she confirmed.
"I'll take it," growled the captain firmly. He reached into his pocket and slapped down three or four gold pieces. "Just tell me when that runs out!" he laughed.
While Mother checked the coins with her thumbnail to make sure they were real, I hurried to show the captain his room and where he could put his sea chest. It was one of my favorite rooms, a front one with a big window looking out over the cliffs and the vast blue ocean.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a silver piece. "Would ye like this, lad?" he asked.
My eyes grew wide. "Yes, very much, captain." A silver piece was more than I usually made in two months!
He laughed. "Well, you can have it then! Jes' keep a sharp eye out for…" he stopped and his expression fell as if he were about to utter the name of the Devil himself. "… fer a sailor with one leg," he finished. "Yeh do that, lad, and I'll give you a silver fourpenny the first of every month, jes' like clockwork."
One leg? I thought. Should be easy enough to spot. "Gladly, sir!" I agreed eagerly. "I mean captain." My tail was slapping the air like a windmill in a storm.
He flipped me the coin. "There you are. Now, if you sees such a dog, be sure and tell me straightaway, clear?"
I nodded as I caught the coin. "Aye-aye, captain!" And I left to go show Mother what he had given me.
"A silver fourpenny every month?" she asked when she saw it.
"Yes," I confirmed handing her the coin so she could check it herself.
She tested the coin with her thumbnail, then gave it back and put a paw to her chin. "This sailor must be either a good friend or a deadly foe," she observed. "And whichever it is, it could be trouble for us if he turns up."
I remembered the look on the captain's face. "Probably enemies," I said. "He looked like he was talking about Blackbeard."
Mother nodded. "Well, if you see the dog, be sure to tell the captain, and me."
History note: In the time when this story takes place, around the mid-1800s, coins made of gold or silver were in common use. These metals were so soft in a pure state that they could be tested for authenticity by biting or pressing with one's fingernail to see if it left an impression. So much for collector value.
Also at that time, alchohol was a must for innkeepers, even those who, like Aniu, would rather the stuff didn't exist. No alchohol meant no customers, and it could sometimes be a health essential as well. Clean water was not always available, so sometimes a little wine had to be added to kill pathogens.
So, who is this strange sailor, and why is he so worried about a one-legged sailor?