Soon the wind turns, so Jim and Israel Hands stop the ship and rest. Hands asks Jim to push O’Brien overboard, rather than keep him on deck, but Jim refuses. Hands says that the Hispaniola is an unlucky ship—many men have been killed on it. He asks if Jim thinks a dead man can come alive again: Jim says the body is dead, but not the spirit, and Hands says he hasn’t seen spirits do much danger.
Throughout the book, it has become evident that some characters simply have better or worse fortune than others: here Hands further elaborates on this reality, though with a superstitious twist, given that it seems Hands is trying to decide how fearful to be of spirits.
Suddenly Hands asks if Jim will get him some wine, since the brandy is too strong. Jim is suspicious of this excuse, especially as Hands keeps watching Jim closely. But he decides to hide his own suspicions, and cheerfully agrees. He slips downstairs, runs along the gallery, and peeks out of the fore. He then sees Hands rise from his hands and knees and painfully heave himself across the deck, where he pulls a bloodstained knife out of a coil of rope. He hides it in his jacket and crawls back.
By now, Jim has learned enough about treachery and duplicity to know not to trust Hands, especially since he also is well aware of the pirate’s penchant for rum over wine. Jim’s suspicion proves to be well-founded, since his own quick thinking will allow him to be able to stave off what Hands thinks is the advantage of surprise.
Now knowing Hands is armed, Jim still is certain that the two of them both desire to beach the Hispaniola safely—only until then will his life be spared. Jim heads back to deck, where Hands asks him for some tobacco. Jim says if he were Hands, he’s spend more time praying: Hands has betrayed the crew, has killed men, and has lived sinfully. But Hands answers solemnly that he has never yet seen any good come from goodness: whoever strikes first wins. Changing his tone, he says that the wind has now shifted.
While there’s little Jim can do right away in response to Hands’ treachery other than engage him directly in battle, he is able to strategize given his knowledge of the goal they both share as well as where their aims diverge. Here, again, Hands speaks for the pirates in general, but also many of the other characters, when he chooses pragmatism over goodness.
With Hands directing, Jim steers around the banks and towards the shores of North Inlet. Hands points out a beach to Jim, and explains how he might get the Hispaniola back to sea again after docking her there. He issues Jim his directing commands, and they have almost reached the shore when suddenly Jim feels dread and turns around—Hands has leapt towards Jim with the knife in his hand.
Jim is able to enlist Hands as his right-hand man in a kind of unofficial truce, allowing them both to survive as long as possible. Only when land is in sight does the pirate presumably decide that he’s now able to survive on his own, and can try to take out Jim.
Hands throws himself forward and Jim jumps sideways onto the open deck. He draws his pistol and shoots, but sea water has made the gun useless. He curses himself for not checking and reloading his weapons, and marvels at how fast Hands can move despite his injuries. He realizes it would be fatal to retreat—that would box him in at the corner of the deck—so he stands and waits, ready to dodge. Hands stops too, then feints, and Jim moves correspondingly. It’s like the games he used to play at Black Hill Cove, Jim thinks, though never with his heart beating so hard.
Although Jim has had time to prepare for this moment, he only now realizes that he’s not quite as prepared as he could have been, having failed to check to ensure that his pistol was working. Still, Jim once again excels at quick thinking, learning from the games he played as a boy, even though now the stakes are much higher and his skills are literally a matter of life and death.
Suddenly the Hispaniola rams into the sand and the deck tilts to 45 degrees. Jim and Hands both roll down, Hands slamming into O’Brien’s body. Jim jumps into the mizzen shrouds (the rigging holding up the mast) and dodges Hands’s knife hurled towards him. Jim quickly recharges his pistol, while Hands painfully pulls himself into the shrouds and begins to climb. Pistol in hand, Jim orders Hands to halt. The coxswain stops and Jim laughs out loud: Hands says that he’s had no luck—the ship’s lurch did him in. Jim continues to smile, but Hands once again hurls another knife into the air, pinning Jim’s shoulder to the mast. Almost unconsciously, he shoots, and his pistol falls into the sea, along with Hands, head first.
As Jim and Hands have been fighting, the ship has continued its forward march to the shore. Luck is now on Jim’s side, as the interruption allows him to escape immediate danger and use the advantage of his small size to clamber up and away from Hands. Jim’s newfound confidence turns out to be slightly misplaced, but only slightly, as he is able to kill Hands in defense—the first time he’s killed a man, and a huge event in his young life, although in the immediate moment it mostly means that his own life has been spared.