“The stairs are very narrow, sir,” said Alfred Raybrock to Captain Jorgan.
“Like my cabin-stairs,” returned the captain, “on many a voyage.”
“And they are rather inconvenient for the head.”
“If my head can’t take care of itself by this time, after all the knocking about the world it has had,” replied the captain, as unconcernedly as if he had no connection with it, “it’s not worth looking after.”
Thus they came into the young fisherman’s bedroom, which was as perfectly neat and clean as the shop and parlour below; though it was but a little place, with a sliding window, and a phrenological ceiling expressive of all the peculiarities of the house-roof. Here the captain sat down on the foot of the bed, and glancing at a dreadful libel on Kitty which ornamented the wall,—the production of some wandering limner, whom the captain secretly admired as having studied portraiture from the figure-heads of ships,—motioned to the young man to take the rush-chair on the other side of the small round table. That done, the captain put his hand in the deep breast-pocket of his long-skirted blue coat, and took out of it a strong square case-bottle,—not a large bottle, but such as may be seen in any ordinary ship’s medicine-chest. Setting this bottle on the table without removing his hand from it, Captain Jorgan then spake as follows:—
“In my last voyage homeward-bound,” said the captain, “and that’s the voyage off of which I now come straight, I encountered such weather off the Horn as is not very often met with, even there. I have rounded that stormy Cape pretty often, and I believe I first beat about there in the identical storms that blew the Devil’s horns and tail off, and led to the horns being worked up into tooth-picks for the plantation overseers in my country, who may be seen (if you travel down South, or away West, fur enough) picking their teeth with ’em, while the whips, made of the tail, flog hard. In this last voyage, homeward-bound for Liverpool from South America, I say to you, my young friend, it blew. Whole measures! No half measures, nor making believe to blow; it blew! Now I warn’t blown clean out of the water into the sky,—though I expected to be even that,—but I was blown clean out of my course; and when at last it fell calm, it fell dead calm, and a strong current set one way, day and night, night and day, and I drifted—drifted—drifted—out of all the ordinary tracks and courses of ships, and drifted yet, and yet drifted. It behooves a man who takes charge of fellow-critturs’ lives, never to rest from making himself master of his calling. I never did rest, and consequently I knew pretty well (’specially looking over the side in the dead calm of that strong current) what dangers to expect, and what precautions to take against ’em. In short, we were driving head on to an island. There was no island in the chart, and, therefore, you may say it was ill-manners in the island to be there; I don’t dispute its bad breeding, but there it was. Thanks be to Heaven, I was as ready for the island as the island was ready for me. I made it out myself from the masthead, and I got enough way upon her in good time to keep her off. I ordered a boat to be lowered and manned, and went in that boat myself to explore the island. There was a reef outside it, and, floating in a corner of the smooth water within the reef, was a heap of sea-weed, and entangled in that sea-weed was this bottle.”
Here the captain took his hand from the bottle for a moment, that the young fisherman might direct a wondering glance at it; and then replaced his band and went on:—
“If ever you come—or even if ever you don’t come—to a desert place, use you your eyes and your spy-glass well; for the smallest thing you see may prove of use to you; and may have some information or some warning in it. That’s the principle on which I came to see this bottle. I picked up the bottle and ran the boat alongside the island, and made fast and went ashore armed, with a part of my boat’s crew. We found that every scrap of vegetation on the island (I give it you as my opinion, but scant and scrubby at the best of times) had been consumed by fire. As we were making our way, cautiously and toilsomely, over the pulverised embers, one of my people sank into the earth breast-high. He turned pale, and ‘Haul me out smart, shipmates,’ says he, ‘for my feet are among bones.’ We soon got him on his legs again, and then we dug up the spot, and we found that the man was right, and that his feet had been among bones. More than that, they were human bones; though whether the remains of one man, or of two or three men, what with calcination and ashes, and what with a poor practical knowledge of anatomy, I can’t undertake to say. We examined the whole island and made out nothing else, save and except that, from its opposite side, I sighted a considerable tract of land, which land I was able to identify, and according to the bearings of which (not to trouble you with my log) I took a fresh departure. When I got aboard again I opened the bottle, which was oilskin-covered as you see, and glass-stoppered as you see. Inside of it,” pursued the captain, suiting his action to his words, “I found this little crumpled, folded paper, just as you see. Outside of it was written, as you see, these words: ‘Whoever finds this, is solemnly entreated by the dead to convey it unread to Alfred Raybrock, Steepways, North Devon, England.’ A sacred charge,” said the captain, concluding his narrative, “and, Alfred Raybrock, there it is!”
“This is my poor brother’s writing!”
“I suppose so,” said Captain Jorgan. “I’ll take a look out of this little window while you read it.”
“Pray no, sir! I should be hurt. My brother couldn’t know it would fall into such hands as yours.”
The captain sat down again on the foot of the bed, and the young man opened the folded paper with a trembling hand, and spread it on the table. The ragged paper, evidently creased and torn both before and after being written on, was much blotted and stained, and the ink had faded and run, and many words were wanting. What the captain and the young fisherman made out together, after much re-reading and much humouring of the folds of the paper, is given on the next page.
The young fisherman had become more and more agitated, as the writing had become clearer to him. He now left it lying before the captain, over whose shoulder he had been reading it, and dropping into his former seat, leaned forward on the table and laid his face in his hands.
“What, man,” urged the captain, “don’t give in! Be up and doing like a man!”
“It is selfish, I know,—but doing what, doing what?” cried the young fisherman, in complete despair, and stamping his sea-boot on the ground.
“Doing what?” returned the captain. “Something! I’d go down to the little breakwater below yonder, and take a wrench at one of the salt-rusted iron rings there, and either wrench it up by the roots or wrench my teeth out of my head, sooner than I’d do nothing. Nothing!” ejaculated the captain. “Any fool or fainting heart can do that, and nothing can come of nothing,—which was pretended to be found out, I believe, by one of them Latin critters,” said the captain with the deepest disdain; “as if Adam hadn’t found it out, afore ever he so much as named the beasts!”
Yet the captain saw, in spite of his bold words, that there was some greater reason than he yet understood for the young man’s distress. And he eyed him with a sympathising curiosity.
“Come, come!” continued the captain, “Speak out. What is it, boy!”
“You have seen how beautiful she is, sir,” said the young man, looking up for the moment, with a flushed face and rumpled hair.
“Did any man ever say she warn’t beautiful?” retorted the captain. “If so, go and lick him.”
The young man laughed fretfully in spite of himself, and said—
“It’s not that, it’s not that.”
“Wa’al, then, what is it?” said the captain in a more soothing tone.
The young fisherman mournfully composed himself to tell the captain what it was, and began: “We were to have been married next Monday week—”
“Were to have been!” interrupted Captain Jorgan. “And are to be? Hey?”
Young Raybrock shook his head, and traced out with his fore-finger the words, “ poor father’s five hundred pounds,” in the written paper.
“Go along,” said the captain. “Five hundred pounds? Yes?”
“That sum of money,” pursued the young fisherman, entering with the greatest earnestness on his demonstration, while the captain eyed him with equal earnestness, “was all my late father possessed. When he died, he owed no man more than he left means to pay, but he had been able to lay by only five hundred pounds.”
“Five hundred pounds,” repeated the captain. “Yes?”
“In his lifetime, years before, he had expressly laid the money aside to leave to my mother,—like to settle upon her, if I make myself understood.”
“He had risked it once—my father put down in writing at that time, respecting the money—and was resolved never to risk it again.”
“Not a spectator,” said the captain. “My country wouldn’t have suited him. Yes?”
“My mother has never touched the money till now. And now it was to have been laid out, this very next week, in buying me a handsome share in our neighbouring fishery here, to settle me in life with Kitty.”
The captain’s face fell, and he passed and repassed his sun-browned right hand over his thin hair, in a discomfited manner.
“Kitty’s father has no more than enough to live on, even in the sparing way in which we live about here. He is a kind of bailiff or steward of manor rights here, and they are not much, and it is but a poor little office. He was better off once, and Kitty must never marry to mere drudgery and hard living.”
The captain still sat stroking his thin hair, and looking at the young fisherman.
“I am as certain that my father had no knowledge that any one was wronged as to this money, or that any restitution ought to be made, as I am certain that the sun now shines. But, after this solemn warning from my brother’s grave in the sea, that the money is Stolen Money,” said Young Raybrock, forcing himself to the utterance of the words, “can I doubt it? Can I touch it?”
“About not doubting, I ain’t so sure,” observed the captain; “but about not touching—no—I don’t think you can.”
“See then,” said Young Raybrock, “why I am so grieved. Think of Kitty. Think what I have got to tell her!”
His heart quite failed him again when he had come round to that, and he once more beat his sea-boot softly on the floor. But not for long; he soon began again, in a quietly resolute tone.
“However! Enough of that! You spoke some brave words to me just now, Captain Jorgan, and they shall not be spoken in vain. I have got to do something. What I have got to do, before all other things, is to trace out the meaning of this paper, for the sake of the Good Name that has no one else to put it right. And still for the sake of the Good Name, and my father’s memory, not a word of this writing must be breathed to my mother, or to Kitty, or to any human creature. You agree in this?”
“I don’t know what they’ll think of us below,” said the captain, “but for certain I can’t oppose it. Now, as to tracing. How will you do?”
They both, as by consent, bent over the paper again, and again carefully puzzled out the whole of the writing.
“I make out that this would stand, if all the writing was here, ‘Inquire among the old men living there, for’—some one. Most like, you’ll go to this village named here?” said the captain, musing, with his finger on the name.
“Yes! And Mr. Tregarthen is a Cornishman, and—to be sure!—comes from Lanrean.”
“Does he?” said the captain quietly. “As I ain’t acquainted with him, who may he be?”
“Mr. Tregarthen is Kitty’s father.”
“Ay, ay!” cried the captain. “Now you speak! Tregarthen knows this village of Lanrean, then?”
“Beyond all doubt he does. I have often heard him mention it, as being his native place. He knows it well.”
“Stop half a moment,” said the captain. “We want a name here. You could ask Tregarthen (or if you couldn’t I could) what names of old men he remembers in his time in those diggings? Hey?”
“I can go straight to his cottage, and ask him now.”
“Take me with you,” said the captain, rising in a solid way that had a most comfortable reliability in it, “and just a word more first. I have knocked about harder than you, and have got along further than you. I have had, all my sea-going life long, to keep my wits polished bright with acid and friction, like the brass cases of the ship’s instruments. I’ll keep you company on this expedition. Now you don’t live by talking any more than I do. Clench that hand of yours in this hand of mine, and that’s a speech on both sides.”
Captain Jorgan took command of the expedition with that hearty shake. He at once refolded the paper exactly as before, replaced it in the bottle, put the stopper in, put the oilskin over the stopper, confided the whole to Young Raybrock’s keeping, and led the way down-stairs.
But it was harder navigation below-stairs than above. The instant they set foot in the parlour the quick, womanly eye detected that there was something wrong. Kitty exclaimed, frightened, as she ran to her lover’s side, “Alfred! What’s the matter?” Mrs. Raybrock cried out to the captain, “Gracious! what have you done to my son to change him like this all in a minute?” And the young widow—who was there with her work upon her arm—was at first so agitated that she frightened the little girl she held in her hand, who hid her face in her mother’s skirts and screamed. The captain, conscious of being held responsible for this domestic change, contemplated it with quite a guilty expression of countenance, and looked to the young fisherman to come to his rescue.
“Kitty, darling,” said Young Raybrock, “Kitty, dearest love, I must go away to Lanrean, and I don’t know where else or how much further, this very day. Worse than that—our marriage, Kitty, must be put off, and I don’t know for how long.”
Kitty stared at him, in doubt and wonder and in anger, and pushed him from her with her hand.
“Put off?” cried Mrs. Raybrock. “The marriage put off? And you going to Lanrean! Why, in the name of the dear Lord?”
“Mother dear, I can’t say why; I must not say why. It would be dishonourable and undutiful to say why.”
“Dishonourable and undutiful?” returned the dame. “And is there nothing dishonourable or undutiful in the boy’s breaking the heart of his own plighted love, and his mother’s heart too, for the sake of the dark secrets and counsels of a wicked stranger? Why did you ever come here?” she apostrophised the innocent captain. “Who wanted you? Where did you come from? Why couldn’t you rest in your own bad place, wherever it is, instead of disturbing the peace of quiet unoffending folk like us?”
“And what,” sobbed the poor little Kitty, “have I ever done to you, you hard and cruel captain, that you should come and serve me so?”
And then they both began to weep most pitifully, while the captain could only look from the one to the other, and lay hold of himself by the coat collar.
“Margaret,” said the poor young fisherman, on his knees at Kitty’s feet, while Kitty kept both her hands before her tearful face, to shut out the traitor from her view,—but kept her fingers wide asunder and looked at him all the time,—“Margaret, you have suffered so much, so uncomplainingly, and are always so careful and considerate! Do take my part, for poor Hugh’s sake!”
The quiet Margaret was not appealed to in vain. “I will, Alfred,” she returned, “and I do. I wish this gentleman had never come near us;” whereupon the captain laid hold of himself the tighter; “but I take your part for all that. I am sure you have some strong reason and some sufficient reason for what you do, strange as it is, and even for not saying why you do it, strange as that is. And, Kitty darling, you are bound to think so more than any one, for true love believes everything, and bears everything, and trusts everything. And, mother dear, you are bound to think so too, for you know you have been blest with good sons, whose word was always as good as their oath, and who were brought up in as true a sense of honour as any gentleman in this land. And I am sure you have no more call, mother, to doubt your living son than to doubt your dead son; and for the sake of the dear dead, I stand up for the dear living.”
“Wa’al now,” the captain struck in, with enthusiasm, “this I say, That whether your opinions flatter me or not, you are a young woman of sense, and spirit, and feeling; and I’d sooner have you by my side in the hour of danger, than a good half of the men I’ve ever fallen in with—or fallen out with, ayther.”
Margaret did not return the captain’s compliment, or appear fully to reciprocate his good opinion, but she applied herself to the consolation of Kitty, and of Kitty’s mother-in-law that was to have been next Monday week, and soon restored the parlour to a quiet condition.
“Kitty, my darling,” said the young fisherman, “I must go to your father to entreat him still to trust me in spite of this wretched change and mystery, and to ask him for some directions concerning Lanrean. Will you come home? Will you come with me, Kitty?”
Kitty answered not a word, but rose sobbing, with the end of her simple head-dress at her eyes. Captain Jorgan followed the lovers out, quite sheepishly, pausing in the shop to give an instruction to Mr. Pettifer.
“Here, Tom!” said the captain, in a low voice. “Here’s something in your line. Here’s an old lady poorly and low in her spirits. Cheer her up a bit, Tom. Cheer ’em all up.”
Mr. Pettifer, with a brisk nod of intelligence, immediately assumed his steward face, and went with his quiet, helpful, steward step into the parlour, where the captain had the great satisfaction of seeing him, through the glass door, take the child in his arms (who offered no objection), and bend over Mrs. Raybrock, administering soft words of consolation.
“Though what he finds to say, unless he’s telling her that ’t’ll soon be over, or that most people is so at first, or that it’ll do her good afterward, I cannot imaginate!” was the captain’s reflection as he followed the lovers.
He had not far to follow them, since it was but a short descent down the stony ways to the cottage of Kitty’s father. But short as the distance was, it was long enough to enable the captain to observe that he was fast becoming the village Ogre; for there was not a woman standing working at her door, or a fisherman coming up or going down, who saw Young Raybrock unhappy and little Kitty in tears, but he or she instantly darted a suspicious and indignant glance at the captain, as the foreigner who must somehow be responsible for this unusual spectacle. Consequently, when they came into Tregarthen’s little garden,—which formed the platform from which the captain had seen Kitty peeping over the wall,—the captain brought to, and stood off and on at the gate, while Kitty hurried to hide her tears in her own room, and Alfred spoke with her father, who was working in the garden. He was a rather infirm man, but could scarcely be called old yet, with an agreeable face and a promising air of making the best of things. The conversation began on his side with great cheerfulness and good humour, but soon became distrustful, and soon angry. That was the captain’s cue for striking both into the conversation and the garden.
“Morning, sir!” said Captain Jorgan. “How do you do?”
“The gentleman I am going away with,” said the young fisherman to Tregarthen.
“O!” returned Kitty’s father, surveying the unfortunate captain with a look of extreme disfavour. “I confess that I can’t say I am glad to see you.”
“No,” said the captain, “and, to admit the truth, that seems to be the general opinion in these parts. But don’t be hasty; you may think better of me by-and-by.”
“I hope so,” observed Tregarthen.
“Wa’al, I hope so,” observed the captain, quite at his ease; “more than that, I believe so,—though you don’t. Now, Mr. Tregarthen, you don’t want to exchange words of mistrust with me; and if you did, you couldn’t, because I wouldn’t. You and I are old enough to know better than to judge against experience from surfaces and appearances; and if you haven’t lived to find out the evil and injustice of such judgments, you are a lucky man.”
The other seemed to shrink under this remark, and replied, “Sir, I have lived to feel it deeply.”
“Wa’al,” said the captain, mollified, “then I’ve made a good cast without knowing it. Now, Tregarthen, there stands the lover of your only child, and here stand I who know his secret. I warrant it a righteous secret, and none of his making, though bound to be of his keeping. I want to help him out with it, and tewwards that end we ask you to favour us with the names of two or three old residents in the village of Lanrean. As I am taking out my pocket-book and pencil to put the names down, I may as well observe to you that this, wrote atop of the first page here, is my name and address: ‘Silas Jonas Jorgan, Salem, Massachusetts, United States.’ If ever you take it in your head to run over any morning, I shall be glad to welcome you. Now, what may be the spelling of these said names?”
“There was an elderly man,” said Tregarthen, “named David Polreath. He may be dead.”
“Wa’al,” said the captain, cheerfully, “if Polreath’s dead and buried, and can be made of any service to us, Polreath won’t object to our digging of him up. Polreath’s down, anyhow.”
“There was another named Penrewen. I don’t know his Christian name.”
“Never mind his Chris’en name,” said the captain; “Penrewen, for short.”
“There was another named John Tredgear.”
“And a pleasant-sounding name, too,” said the captain; “John Tredgear’s booked.”
“I can recall no other except old Parvis.”
“One of old Parvis’s fam’ly I reckon,” said the captain, “kept a dry-goods store in New York city, and realised a handsome competency by burning his house to ashes. Same name, anyhow. David Polreath, Unchris’en Penrewen, John Tredgear, and old Arson Parvis.”
“I cannot recall any others at the moment.”
“Thank’ee,” said the captain. “And so, Tregarthen, hoping for your good opinion yet, and likewise for the fair Devonshire Flower’s, your daughter’s, I give you my hand, sir, and wish you good day.”
Young Raybrock accompanied him disconsolately; for there was no Kitty at the window when he looked up, no Kitty in the garden when he shut the gate, no Kitty gazing after them along the stony ways when they begin to climb back.
“Now I tell you what,” said the captain. “Not being at present calculated to promote harmony in your family, I won’t come in. You go and get your dinner at home, and I’ll get mine at the little hotel. Let our hour of meeting be two o’clock, and you’ll find me smoking a cigar in the sun afore the hotel door. Tell Tom Pettifer, my steward, to consider himself on duty, and to look after your people till we come back; you’ll find he’ll have made himself useful to ’em already, and will be quite acceptable.”
All was done as Captain Jorgan directed. Punctually at two o’clock the young fisherman appeared with his knapsack at his back; and punctually at two o’clock the captain jerked away the last feather-end of his cigar.
“Let me carry your baggage, Captain Jorgan; I can easily take it with mine.”
“Thank’ee,” said the captain. “I’ll carry it myself. It’s only a comb.”
They climbed out of the village, and paused among the trees and fern on the summit of the hill above, to take breath, and to look down at the beautiful sea. Suddenly the captain gave his leg a resounding slap, and cried, “Never knew such a right thing in all my life!”—and ran away.
The cause of this abrupt retirement on the part of the captain was little Kitty among the trees. The captain went out of sight and waited, and kept out of sight and waited, until it occurred to him to beguile the time with another cigar. He lighted it, and smoked it out, and still he was out of sight and waiting. He stole within sight at last, and saw the lovers, with their arms entwined and their bent heads touching, moving slowly among the trees. It was the golden time of the afternoon then, and the captain said to himself, “Golden sun, golden sea, golden sails, golden leaves, golden love, golden youth,—a golden state of things altogether!”
Nevertheless the captain found it necessary to hail his young companion before going out of sight again. In a few moments more he came up and they began their journey.
“That still young woman with the fatherless child,” said Captain Jorgan, as they fell into step, “didn’t throw her words away; but good honest words are never thrown away. And now that I am conveying you off from that tender little thing that loves, and relies, and hopes, I feel just as if I was the snarling crittur in the picters, with the tight legs, the long nose, and the feather in his cap, the tips of whose moustaches get up nearer to his eyes the wickeder he gets.”
The young fisherman knew nothing of Mephistopheles; but he smiled when the captain stopped to double himself up and slap his leg, and they went along in right goodfellowship.