"Marooned three years agone," he continued, "and lived on goats since then, and berries, and oysters. Wherever a man is, says I, a man can do for himself. But, mate, my heart is sore for Christian diet. You mightn't happen to have a piece of cheese about you, now? No? Well, many's the long night I've dreamed of cheese--toasted, mostly--and woke up again, and here I were."
"If ever I can get aboard again," said I, "you shall have cheese by the stone."
All this time he had been feeling the stuff of my jacket, smoothing my hands, looking at my boots, and generally, in the intervals of his speech, showing a childish pleasure in the presence of a fellow creature. But at my last words he perked up into a kind of startled slyness.
"If ever you can get aboard again, says you?" he repeated. "Why, now, who's to hinder you?"
"Not you, I know," was my reply.
"And right you was," he cried. "Now you--what do you call yourself, mate?"
"Jim," I told him.
"Jim, Jim," says he, quite pleased apparently. "Well, now, Jim, I've lived that rough as you'd be ashamed to hear of. Now, for instance, you wouldn't think I had had a pious mother--to look at me?" he asked.
"Why, no, not in particular," I answered.
"Ah, well," said he, "but I had--remarkable pious. And I was a civil, pious boy, and could rattle off my catechism that fast, as you couldn't tell one word from another. And here's what it come to, Jim, and it begun with chuck-farthen on the blessed grave-stones! That's what it begun with, but it went further'n that; and so my mother told me, and predicked the whole, she did, the pious woman! But it were Providence that put me here. I've thought it all out in this here lonely island, and I'm back on piety. You don't catch me tasting rum so much, but just a thimbleful for luck, of course, the first chance I have. I'm bound I'll be good, and I see the way to. And, Jim"--looking all round him and lowering his voice to a whisper--"I'm rich."
I now felt sure that the poor fellow had gone crazy in his solitude, and I suppose I must have shown the feeling in my face, for he repeated the statement hotly: "Rich! Rich! I says. And I'll tell you what: I'll make a man of you, Jim. Ah, Jim, you'll bless your stars, you will, you was the first that found me!"
And at this there came suddenly a lowering shadow over his face, and he tightened his grasp upon my hand and raised a forefinger threateningly before my eyes.
"Now, Jim, you tell me true: that ain't Flint's ship?" he asked.
At this I had a happy inspiration. I began to believe that I had found an ally, and I answered him at once.
"It's not Flint's ship, and Flint is dead; but I'll tell you true, as you ask me--there are some of Flint's hands aboard; worse luck for the rest of us."
"Not a man--with one--leg?" he gasped.
"Silver?" I asked.
"Ah, Silver!" says he. "That were his name."
"He's the cook, and the ringleader too."
He was still holding me by the wrist, and at that he give it quite a wring.
"If you was sent by Long John," he said, "I'm as good as pork, and I know it. But where was you, do you suppose?"
I had made my mind up in a moment, and by way of answer told him the whole story of our voyage and the predicament in which we found ourselves. He heard me with the keenest interest, and when I had done he patted me on the head.