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Title: Nautilus
Author: Richards, Laura Elizabeth Howe, 1850-1943
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Nautilus" ***

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[Illustration]

NAUTILUS

BY
LAURA E. RICHARDS
AUTHOR OF "CAPTAIN JANUARY," "MELODY," "MARIE," "QUEEN HILDEGARDE,"
ETC., ETC.

Illustrated

TENTH THOUSAND

BOSTON
ESTES AND LAURIAT
1895

_Copyright, 1895,_
BY ESTES AND LAURIAT
_All rights reserved
Entered at Stationers' Hall, London._

_Typography and Printing by_
_C.H. Simonds & Co._
_Electrotyping by Geo. C. Scott & Sons_
_Boston, U.S.A._

TO MY DEAR FRIENDS,
THE MEMBERS OF THE
HOWE CLUB,
OF GARDINER, MAINE,
THIS STORY IS AFFECTIONATELY
DEDICATED.



                CONTENTS.

CHAPTER                                               Page

   I.  THE BOY JOHN                                     13

  II.  THE SKIPPER                                      18

 III.  A GREAT EXHIBITION                               33

  IV.  ABOARD THE "NAUTILUS"                            48

   V.  MYSTERY                                          56

  VI.  MR. BILL HEN                                     68

 VII.  THE CAPTIVE                                      75

VIII.  IN THE NIGHT                                     86

  IX.  FAMILY MATTERS                                   93

   X.  IN THE VALLEY OF DECISION                       105

  XI.  SAILING                                         113



NAUTILUS

[Illustration: NAUTILUS]



CHAPTER I.

THE BOY JOHN.


The boy John was sitting on the wharf, watching the ebb of the tide. The
current was swift, for there had been heavy rains within a few days; the
river was full of drifting logs, bits of bark, odds and ends of various
kinds; the water, usually so blue, looked brown and thick. It swirled
round the great mossy piers, making eddies between them; from time to
time the boy dropped bits of paper into these eddies, and saw with
delight how they spun round and round, like living things, and finally
gave up the struggle and were borne away down stream.

"Only, in the real maelstrom," he said, "they don't be carried away;
they go over the edge, down into the black hole, whole ships and ships,
and you never see them again. I wonder where they stop, or whether it
goes through to the other side of the world."

A great log came drifting along, and struck against a pier; the end
swung round, and it rested for a few moments, beating against the wooden
wall. This, it was evident, was a wrecked vessel, and it behooved the
boy John, as a hero and a life-saver, to rescue her passengers. Seizing
a pole, he lay down on his stomach and carefully drew the log toward
him, murmuring words of cheer the while.

"They are almost starved to death!" he said, pitifully. "The captain is
tied to the mast, and they have not had anything to eat but boots and a
puppy for three weeks. The mate and some of the sailors took all the
boats and ran away,--at least, not ran, but went off and left the rest
of 'em; and they have all said their prayers, for they are very good
folks, and the captain didn't _want_ to kill the puppy one bit, but he
had to, or else they would all be dead now. And--and the reckoning was
dead,--I wonder what that means, and why it is dead so often,--and so
they couldn't tell where they were, but they knew that there were
cannibals on _almost_ all the islands, and this was the hungriest time
of the year for cannibals."

Here followed a few breathless moments, during which the captain, his
wife and child, and the faithful members of the crew, were pulled up to
the wharf by the unaided arm of the boy John. He wrapped them in hot
blankets and gave them brandy and peanut taffy: the first because it was
what they always did in books; the second because it was the best thing
in the world, and would take away the nasty taste of the brandy.

Leaving them in safety, and in floods of grateful tears, the rescuer
bent over the side of the wharf once more, intent on saving the gallant
ship from her fate; but at this moment came a strong swirl of tide, the
log swung round once more and floated off, and the rescuer fell "all
along" into the water. This was nothing unusual, and he came puffing and
panting up the slippery logs, and sat down again, shaking himself like a
Newfoundland puppy. He wished the shipwrecked crew had not seen him; he
knew he should get a whipping when he reached home, but that was of less
consequence. Anyhow, she was an old vessel, and now the captain would
get a new ship--a fine one, full rigged, with new sails as white as
snow; and on his next voyage he would take him, the boy John, in place
of the faithless mate, and they would sail away, away, down the river
and far across the ocean, and then,--then he would hear the sound of the
sea. After all, you never could hear it in the river, though that was,
oh, so much better than nothing! But the things that the shells meant
when they whispered, the things that the wind said over and over in the
pine trees, those things you never could know until you heard the real
sound of the real sea.

The child rose and stretched himself wearily. He had had a happy time,
but it was over now; he must leave the water, which he cared more for
than for anything in the world,--must leave the water and go back to the
small close house, and go to bed, and dream no more dreams. Ah! when
would some one come,--no play hero, but a real one, in a white-sailed
ship, and carry him off, never to set foot on shore again?

He turned to go, for the shadows were falling, and already a fog had
crept up the river, almost hiding the brown, swiftly-flowing water; yet
before leaving the wharf he turned back once more and looked up and
down, with eyes that strove to pierce the fog veil,--eager, longing eyes
of a child, who hopes every moment to see the doors open into
fairy-land.

And lo! what was this that he saw? What was this that came gliding
slowly, silently out of the dusk, out of the whiteness, itself whiter
than the river fog, more shadowy than the films of twilight? The child
held his breath, and his heart beat fast, fast. A vessel, or the ghost
of a vessel? Nearer and nearer it came, and now he could see masts and
spars, sails spread to catch the faint breeze, gleaming brass-work about
the decks. A vessel, surely; yet,--what was that? The fog lifted for a
moment, or else his eyes grew better used to the dimness, and he saw a
strange thing. On the prow of the vessel, which now was seen to be a
schooner, stood a figure; a statue, was it? Surely it was a statue of
bronze, like the Soldiers' Monument, leaning against the mast, with
folded arms.

Nearer! Fear seized the boy, for he thought the statue had eyes like
real eyes, and he saw them move, as if looking from right to left; the
whites glistened, the dark balls rolled from side to side. The child
stood still, feeling as if he had called up this phantom out of his own
thoughts; perhaps in another minute it would fade away into the fog, as
it had come, and leave only the flowing tide and the shrouded banks on
either side!

Nearer! and now the bronze figure lifted its arm, slowly, silently, and
pointed at the boy. But this was more than flesh and blood could stand;
little John uttered a choking cry, and turning his back on the awful
portent, ran home as fast as he could lay foot to ground. And on seeing
this the bronze figure laughed, and its teeth glistened, even as the
eyes had done.



CHAPTER II.

THE SKIPPER.


The little boy slept brokenly that night. Bronze statues flitted through
his dreams, sometimes frowning darkly on him, folding him in an iron
clasp, dragging him down into the depths of roaring whirlpools;
sometimes, still stranger to say, smiling, looking on him with kindly
eyes, and telling him that the sea was not so far away as he thought,
and that one day he should see it and know the sound of it. His bed was
a white schooner,--there seemed no possible doubt of that; it tossed up
and down as it lay by the wharf; and once the lines were cast off, and
he was about to be carried away, when up rose the crew that he had
rescued from shipwreck, and cried with one voice, "No! no! he shall not
go!" The voice was that of Mr. Endymion Scraper, and not a pleasant
voice to hear; moreover, the voice had hands, lean and hard, which
clutched the boy's shoulder, and shook him roughly; and at last,
briefly, it appeared that it was time to get up, and that if the boy
John did not get up that minute, like the lazy good-for-nothing he was,
Mr. Scraper would give him such a lesson as he would not forget for one
while.

John tumbled out of bed, and stood rubbing his eyes for a moment, his
wits still abroad. The water heaved and subsided under him, but
presently it hardened into the garret floor. He staggered a few steps,
as the hard hand gave him a push and let him go, then stood firm and
looked about him. Gradually the room grew familiar; the painted bed and
chair, the window with its four small panes, which he loved to polish
and clean, "so that the sky could come through," the purple mussel-shell
and the china dog, his sole treasures and ornaments. The mussel was his
greatest joy, perhaps; it had been given him by a fisherman, who had
brought a pocket-full back from his sea trip, to please his own
children. It made no sound, but the tint was pure and lovely, and it was
lined with rainbow pearl. The dog was not jealous, for he knew (or the
boy John thought he knew), that he was, after all, the more
companionable of the two, and that he was talked to ten times for the
mussel's once. John was telling him now, as he struggled into his shirt
and trousers, about the vision of last night, and the dreams that
followed it. "And as soon as ever I have my chores done," he said, and
his eyes shone, and his cheek flushed at the thought, "as soon as ever,
I'm going down there, just to see. Of course, I suppose it isn't there,
you know; but then,--if it should be!"

The dog expressed sympathy in his usual quiet way, and was of the
opinion that John should go by all means, for, after all, who could say
that the vision might not have been reality? When one considered the
stories one had read! and had not the dog just heard the whole of
"Robinson Crusoe" read aloud, bit by bit, in stealthy whispers, by early
daylight, by moonlight, by stray bits of candle begged from a
neighbor,--had he not heard and appreciated every word of the immortal
story? He was no ignorant dog, indeed! His advice was worth having.

Breakfast was soon eaten; it did not take long to eat breakfast in Mr.
Scraper's house. The chores were a more serious matter, for every spoon
and plate had to be washed to the tune of a lashing tongue, and under an
eye that withered all it lighted on. But at last,--at last the happy
hour came when the tyrant's back was turned, and the tyrant's feet
tottered off in the direction of the post-office. The daily purchases,
the daily gossip at the "store," would fill the rest of the morning, as
John well knew. He listened in silence to the charges to "keep stiddy to
work, and git that p'tater-patch wed by noon;" he watched the departure
of his tormentor, and went straight to the potato-patch, duty and fear
leading him by either hand. The weeds had no safety of their lives that
day; he was in too great a hurry to dally, as he loved to do, over the
bigger stalks of pigweed, the giants which he, with his trusty
sword--only it was a hoe--would presently dash to the earth and behead,
and tear in pieces. Even the sprawling pusley-stems, which generally
played the part of devil-fish and tarantulas and various other monsters,
suffered no amputation of limb by limb, but were torn up with merciful
haste, and flung in heaps together.

Was the potato-patch thoroughly "wed?" I hardly know. But I know that in
less than an hour after Mr. Endymion Scraper started for the village the
boy John was on his way to the wharf.

As he drew near the river he found that something was the matter with
his breath. It would not come regularly, but in gasps and sighs; his
heart beat so hard, and was so high up in his throat he was almost
choked. Would he see anything when he turned the corner that led down to
the wharf? And if anything,--what? Then he shut his eyes and turned the
corner.

The schooner was there. No longer spectral or shadowy, she lay in plain
sight by the wharf, her trim lines pleasant to look at, her decks
shining with neatness, her canvas all spread out to dry, for the night
dew had been heavy. Lifting his fearful eyes, the child saw the bronze
figure standing in the bow, but now it was plainly seen to be a man, a
swarthy man, with close-curled black hair, and bright, dark eyes. Two
other men were lounging about the deck, but John took little heed of
them. This man, the strangest he had ever seen, claimed his whole
thought. He was as dark as the people in the geography book, where the
pictures of the different races were; not an Ethiopian, evidently (John
loved the long words in the geography book), because his nose was
straight and his lips thin; perhaps a Malay or an Arab. If one could see
a real Arab, one could ask him about the horses, and whether the dates
were always sticky, and what he did in a sandstorm, and lots of
interesting things. And then a Malay,--why, you could ask him how he
felt when he ran amuck,--only, perhaps, that would not be polite.

These meditations were interrupted by a hail from the schooner. It was
the dark man himself who spoke, in a quiet voice that sounded kind.

"Good-morning, sir! Will you come aboard this morning?"

John was not used to being called "Sir," and the word fell pleasantly on
ears that shrank from the detested syllable "Bub," with which strangers
were wont to greet him.

"Yes, if you please," he answered, with some dignity. It is, perhaps,
difficult to be stately when one is only five feet tall, but John felt
stately inside, as well as shy. The stranger turned and made a sign to
the other men, who came quickly, bringing a gang-plank, which they ran
out from the schooner's deck to the wharf. The Skipper, for such the
dark man appeared to be, made a sign of invitation, and after a moment's
hesitation, John ran across and stood on the deck of the white schooner.
Was he still dreaming? Would he wake in a moment and find himself back
in the garret at home, with Mr. Scraper shaking him?

"Welcome, young gentleman!" said the Skipper, holding out his hand.
"Welcome! the first visitor to the schooner. That it is a child, brings
luck for the next voyage, so we owe you a thank. We arrived last night
only. And what is my young gentleman's name?"

"My name is John," said the boy, standing with down-cast eyes before
this wonderful person.

"And mine!" said the Skipper,--"two Johns, the black and the red. You
should be called Juan Colorado, for your hair of red gold."

The boy looked up quickly, his cheek flushing; he did not like to be
laughed at; but the Skipper's face was perfectly grave, and only
courtesy and hospitality shone from his dark eyes.

"I wonder what the schooner's name is!" John said, presently, speaking
low, and addressing his remarks apparently to the mast, which he kicked
gently with his foot.

"The schooner is the 'Nautilus,' young gentleman!"

The reply came from the Skipper, not from the mast, yet it was still to
the latter that the boy made his next observation.

"I wonder where she comes from, and where she is going, and what she is
going to do here!" And having delivered himself breathlessly of these
remarks, the boy John wished he could squeeze through a port-hole, or
melt away into foam, or get away somehow, anyhow.

But now he felt himself lifted in strong arms, and set on the rail of
the vessel, with his eyes just opposite those of the Skipper, so that he
could not look up without meeting them; and on so looking up, it became
evident immediately that this was the kindest man in the world, and that
he liked boys, and that, finally, there was nothing to be afraid of. On
which John heaved a mighty sigh of relief, and then smiled, and then
laughed.

"I like to know things!" he said, simply.

"Me, too," replied the Skipper. "I also like to know things. How else
shall we become wise, Juan Colorado? Now listen, and you shall hear.
This schooner is the 'Nautilus,' as I say, and she is a Spanish
schooner. Yes;" (in reply to the question in the boy's eyes,) "I am
partly a Spanish man, but not all. I have other mankind in me, young
gentleman. We come from the Bahamas. Do you know where are they, the
Bahamas?"

John nodded. He liked geography, and stood at the head of his class.
"Part of the West Indies," he said, rapidly. "Low, coral islands. One of
them, San Salvador, is said to be the first land discovered by Columbus
in 1492. Principal exports, sugar, coffee, cotton, tobacco, and tropical
fruits. Belong to Great Britain. That's all I know."

"Caramba!" said a handsome youth, who was lounging on the rail a few
feet off, gazing on with idle eyes, "you got the schoolmaster here,
Patron! I did not know all that, me, and I come, too, from Bahamas. Say,
you teach a school, M'sieur?"

"Franci!" said the Patron, gravely.

"Si, Señor!" said Franci, with a beautiful smile, which showed his teeth
under his black mustache.

"There is a school of flying-fish in the cabin. Better see to them!"

"Si, Señor!" said Franci, and disappeared down the hatchway.

"Is there?" asked the boy John, with great eyes of wonder. The Skipper
smiled, and shook his head.

"Franci understands me," he said. "I wish to tell him that he go about
his business, and not linger,--as you say, loaf about the deck. I take a
little way round about, but he understands very well, Franci. And of all
these exports, what does the young gentleman think I have brought from
the Bahamas?"

"I--I was just wondering!" John confessed; but he did not add his
secret hope that it was something more interesting than cotton or
tobacco.

The Skipper turned and made a quick, graceful gesture with his hand.
"Perhaps the young gentleman like to see my cargo," he said. "Do me the
favor!" and he led the way down to the cabin.

Now it became evident to the boy that all had indeed been a dream. It
sometimes happened that way, dreaming that you woke and found it all
true, and then starting up to find that the first waking had been of
dream-stuff too, that it was melting away from your sight, from your
grasp; even things that looked so real, so real,--he pinched himself
violently, and shook his head, and tried to break loose from fetters of
sleep, binding him to such sweet wonders, that he must lose next moment;
but no waking came, and the wonders remained.

The cabin was full of shells. Across one end of the little room ran a
glazed counter, where lay heaped together various objects of jewelry,
shell necklaces, alligator teeth and sea-beans set in various ways,
tortoise-shell combs, bracelets and hairpins,--a dazzling array. Yet the
boy's eyes passed almost carelessly over these treasures, to light with
quick enchantment on the shells themselves, the _real_ shells, as he
instantly named them to himself, resenting half-consciously the turning
of Nature's wonders into objects of vulgar adornment.

The shells were here, the shells were there, the shells were all around!
Shelf above shelf of them, piled in heaps, lying in solitary splendor,
arranged in patterns,--John had never, in his wildest dreams, seen so
many shells. Half the poetry of his little life had been in the lovely
forms and colors that lay behind the locked glass doors in Mr. Scraper's
parlor; for Mr. Scraper was a collector of shells in a small way. John
had supposed his collection to be, if not the only one in the world, at
least the most magnificent, by long odds; yet here were the old man's
precious units multiplied into tens, into twenties, sometimes into
hundreds, and all lying open to the day, as if anyone, even a small one,
even a little boy, who almost never had anything in his hand more
precious than his own purple mussel at home, might touch and handle them
and feel himself in heaven.

They gleamed with the banded glories of the rainbow: they softened into
the moonlight beauty of the pearl; they veiled their loveliness in milky
clouds, through which the color showed as pure and sweet as the cheek of
a bride; they glowed with depths of red and flame that might almost burn
to the touch.

The little boy stood with clasped hands, and sobbed with excitement.
"Did you dig up all the sea?" he asked, in a wonder that was not without
reproach. "Are there none left any more, at all?"

The Skipper laughed quietly. "The mermaids see not any difference, sir,"
he said. "Where I take one shell from its rock, I leave a hundred, a
thousand. The sea is a good mother, she has plenty children. See!" he
added, lifting a splendid horned shell, "this is the Royal Triton. On a
rock I found him, twenty fathom down. It was a family party, I think,
for all around they lay, some clinging to the rock, some in the mud,
some walking about. I take one, two, three, put them in my pouch; up I
go, and the others, they have a little more room, that's all."

John's eyes glowed in his head.

"I--I should like to see that!" he cried. "What is it like down there?
Do sharks come by,--swish! with their great tails? And why don't they
eat you, like the man in the geography book? And is there really a
sea-serpent? And do the oysters open and shut their mouths, so that you
can see the pearls, or how do you know which are the right ones?

"There are a great many things that I have thought about all my life,"
he said, "and nobody could ever tell me. The bottom of the sea, that is
what I want most in the world to know about."

He paused, out of breath, and would have been abashed at his own
boldness, had not the Skipper's eyes told him so perfectly that they had
understood all about it, and that there was no sort of reason why he
should not ask all the questions he liked.

They were wonderful eyes, those of the Skipper. Most black eyes are
wanting in the depths that one sounds in blue, or gray, in brown, more
rarely in hazel eyes; they flash with an outward brilliancy, they soften
into velvet, but one seldom sees through them into the heart. But these
eyes, though black beyond a doubt, had the darkness of deep, still
water, when you look into it and see the surface mantling with a bluish
gloss, and beneath that depth upon depth of black--clear, serene,
unfathomable. And when a smile came into them,--ah, well! we all know
how that same dark water looks when the sun strikes on it. The sun
struck now, and little John felt warm and comfortable all through his
body and heart.

"The bottom of the sea?" said the Skipper, taking up a shell and
polishing it on his coat-sleeve. "Yes, that is a fine place, Colorado.
You mind not that I call you Colorado? It pleases me,--the name. A fine
place, truly. You have never seen the sea, young gentleman?"

The boy shook his head.

"Never, really!" he said. "I--I've dreamed about it a great deal, and I
think about it most of the time. There's a picture in my geography book,
just a piece of sea, and then broken off, so that you don't see any end
to it; that makes it seem real, somehow, I don't know why.

"But I've heard the sound of it!" he added, his face brightening.
"There's a shell in Mr. Scraper's parlour, on the mantelpiece, and
sometimes when he goes to sleep I can get it for a minute, and hold it
to my ear, and then I hear the sound, the sound of the sea."

"Yes," said the Skipper, taking up another shell from one of the
shelves, a tiger cowry, rich with purple and brown. "The sound of the
sea; that is a good thing. Listen here, young gentleman, and tell me
what the tiger say to you of the sea."

He held the shell to the boy's ear, and saw the colour and the light
come like a wave into his face. They were silent for a moment; then the
child spoke, low and dreamily.

"It doesn't say words, you know!" he said. "It's just a soft noise, like
what the pine-trees make, but it sounds cool and green and--and wet. And
there are waves a long way off, curling over and over, and breaking on
white beaches, and they smell good and salt. And it seems to make me
know about things down under the sea, and bright colours shining through
the water, and light coming 'way down--cool, green light, that doesn't
make you wink when you look at it. And--and I guess there are lots of
fishes swimming about, and their eyes shine, too, and they move just as
soft, and don't make any noise, no more than if their mother was sick in
the next room. And on the ground there seem to be like flowers, only
they move and open and shut without any one touching them. And--and--"

Was the boy going into a trance? Were the dark eyes mesmerizing him, or
was all this to be heard in the shell? The Skipper took the shell gently
from his hand, and stroked his hair once or twice, quickly and lightly.
"That will do!" he said. "The young gentleman can hear truly. All these
things are under the sea, yes, and more, oh, many more! Some day you
shall see them, young gentleman; who knows? But now comes Franci to make
the dinner. Will Señor Colorado dine with the Skipper from the Bahamas?
Welcome he will be, truly."

Little John started, and a guilty flush swept over his clear face.

"I forgot!" he cried. "I forgot all about everything, and Cousin
Scraper will be home by this time, and--and--I'll have to be going,
please; but I'll come again, if you think I may."

The Skipper had raised his eyebrows at the name of Scraper, and was now
looking curiously at the boy. "Who is that you say?" he asked. "Scraper,
your cousin? And of your father, young gentleman,--why do you not speak
of him?"

"My father is dead," replied little John. "And my mother too, a good
while ago. I don't remember father. Mother----" he broke off, and
dropped his eyes to hide the tears that sprang to them. "Mother died a
year ago," he said; "ever since then I've lived with Cousin Scraper.
He's some sort of kin to father, and he says he's my guardian by law."

"His other name?" suggested the dark man, quietly. "For example,
Endymion?"

"Why, yes!" cried John, raising his honest blue eyes in wonder. "Do you
know him, sir? Have you ever been here before?"

The Skipper shook his head. "Not of my life!" he said. "Yet--I make a
guess at the name; perhaps of this gentleman I have heard. He--he is a
kind person, Colorado?"

John hung his head. He knew that he must not speak evil; his mother had
always told him that; yet what else was there to speak about Cousin
Scraper? "He--he collects shells!" he faltered, after a pause, during
which he was conscious of the Skipper's eyes piercing through and
through him, and probably seeing the very holes in his stockings. But
now the Skipper threw back his head with a laugh.

"He collects shells, eh? My faith, I have come to the right place, I
with my 'Nautilus.' See, young gentleman! I go with my shells where I
think is good market. In large cities, many rich people who collect
shells. I sell many, many, some very precious. Never have I come up this
river of great beauty; but I say, who knows? Maybe here are persons who
know themselves, who have the feeling of shells in their hearts. I find,
first you, Colorado; and that you have the feeling in your heart I see,
at the first look you give to my pretties here. That you have the
fortune to live with a collector, that I could not guess, ha? He is
kind, I say, this Scraper? He loves you as a son, he gives you his
shells to look at, to care for as your own?"

John hung his head again.

"He keeps them locked up," he admitted. "I never had one in my hand,
except the one on the mantelpiece, sometimes when he goes to sleep after
dinner. I--I must be going now!" he cried in desperation, making his way
to the gang-plank. "I must get home, or he'll--"

"What he will do?" the Skipper inquired, holding the plank in his hand.
"What he do to you, young gentleman, eh? A little scold you, because you
stay too long to talk with the Skipper from the Bahamas, hey? No more
than that, is it not?"

"He'll beat me," cried little John, driven fairly past himself. "He
beats me every time I'm late, or don't get my work done. I thank you
ever so much for being so kind, but I can't stay another minute."

"Adios, then, Señor Colorado!" said the Skipper, with a stately bow.
"You come soon again, I pray you. And if you will tell Sir Scraper, and
all those others, your friends, the shell schooner is here. Exhibition
in a few hours ready, free to all. Explanation and instruction when
desired by intelligent persons desiring of to know the habits under the
sea. Schooner 'Nautilus,' from the Bahamas, with remarkable collection
of shells and marine curiosities. Adios, Señor Juan Colorado!"



CHAPTER III.

A GREAT EXHIBITION.


Little John was not the one to spread the tidings of the schooner's
arrival. He had to take his whipping,--a hard one it was!--and then he
was sent down into the cellar to sift ashes, as the most unpleasant
thing that could be devised for a fine afternoon. But the news spread,
for all that. John was not the only boy in the village of Tidewater, and
by twelve o'clock every man, woman and child was talking about the new
arrival; and by two o'clock, the dinner dishes being put away, and the
time of the evening chores still some hours off, nearly every man, woman
and child was hastening in the direction of the wharf. Of course the
boys were going. It was vacation time, and what else should boys do but
see all that was to be seen? And of course it was the duty of the elders
to see that the children came to no harm. So the fathers were strolling
leisurely down, saying to each other that 'twas all nonsense, most
likely, and nothing worth seeing, but some one ought to be looking out
that the boys and the women folks didn't get cheated. The mothers were
putting on their bonnets, in the serene consciousness that if anyone was
going to be cheated it was not they, and that goodness knew what those
men-folks would be up to on that schooner if they were left to
themselves. And the little girls were shaking the pennies out of their
money boxes, or if they had no boxes, watching with eager eyes their
more fortunate sisters. Truly, it was a great day in the village.

The Skipper welcomed one and all. He stood by the gang-plank, and Franci
stood by him, cap in hand, smiling in a beautiful way. On the rail were
perched two little monkeys, their arms round each other's shoulders,
their bright eyes watching with eager curiosity all that went on. When
the Skipper bowed, they bowed; when he smiled, they grinned; and when he
put out his hand to help a woman or a child aboard, they laid their
hands on their hearts, and tried to look like Franci. The Skipper was
their lord and master, and they loved and feared him, and did his
bidding as often as their nature would allow; but in the depths of their
little monkey hearts they cherished a profound admiration for Franci,
and they were always hoping that this time they were looking like him
when they smiled. (But they never were!)

The only other visible member of the crew was a long, lazy-looking
Yankee, whom the Skipper called Rento, and the others plain "Rent," his
full name of Laurentus Woodcock being more than they could away with.
But it was not to see the crew, neither the schooner (though she was a
pretty schooner enough, as anybody who knew about such matters could
see), that the village had come out; it was to see the exhibition, and
the exhibition was ready for them. An awning was spread over the
after-deck, and under this was arranged with care the main collection of
corals and shells, the commoner sorts, such as found a ready sale at
low prices. There was pure white coral, in long branches, studded with
tiny points, like the wraith of the fairy thorn; there were great piles
of the delicate fan-coral, which the sailors call sea-fans, and which
Franci would hold out to every girl who had any pretence to good looks,
with his most gracious bow, and "Young lady like to fan herself, keep
the sun off, _here_ you air, ladies!" While Laurentus would blush and
hang his head if any woman addressed him, and would murmur the wrong
price in an unintelligible voice if the woman happened to be young and
pretty.

Then there were mushroom corals, so inviting that one could hardly
refrain from carrying them home and cooking them for tea; and pincushion
corals, round and hard, looking as if they had been stolen from the best
bedroom of some uncompromising New England mermaid. Yes; there was no
end to the corals. The lovely white branches were cheap, and nearly
every child went off with a branch, small or large, dwelling on it with
eyes of rapture, seeing nothing else in the world, in some cases failing
to see even the way, and being rescued from peril of water by the
Skipper or Rento. The favourite shells were the conches, of all sizes
and varieties, from the huge pink-lipped Tritons of the "Triumph of
Galatea," down to fairy things, many-whorled, rainbow-tinted, which were
included in the "handful for five cents" which Franci joyously
proclaimed at intervals, when he thought the children looked wistful and
needed cheering up, since they could not have all they saw.

But the Cypræas were beautiful, too, and of every colour, from white or
palest amber to deep sullen purples and browns that melted into ebony.
These were the shells with voices, that spoke of the sea; many a child
raised them to his ear, and listened with vague delight to the far-away,
uncertain murmur; but not to every child is it given to hear the sound
of the sea, and it may be doubted whether any boy or girl would have
understood what the boy John meant, if he had declared the things that
the shell had said to him.

Where was John? Franci and Rento had charge of the deck exhibition, but
the Skipper kept his station at the head of the gang-plank, and while
courteously receiving his visitors, with a word of welcome for each, he
looked often up the road to see if his little friend was coming. He
thought the gleam of red hair would brighten the landscape; but it came
not, and the Skipper was not one to neglect a possible customer. Now and
again he would touch some one on the arm, and murmur gently, "In a few
moments presently, other exhibition in the cabin, to which I have the
pleasure of invite you. I attend in person, which is free to visitors."

He spoke without accent, the Skipper, but his sentences were sometimes
framed on foreign models, and it was no wonder if now and then he met a
blank stare. He looked a little bored, possibly; these faces, full of
idle wonder, showed no trace of the collector's eager gaze; yet he was
content to wait, it appeared. Mr. Bill Hen Pike judged, from the way in
which everything was trigged up, that the schooner "cal'lated to make
some stay hereabouts;" and the Skipper did not contradict him, but bowed
gravely, and said, "In a few moments, gentleman, do me the honour to
descend to the cabin, where I take the pleasure of exhibit remarkable
collection of shells."

But now the Skipper raised his head, and became in a moment keenly
alert; for a new figure was seen making its slow way to the wharf,--a
new figure, and a singular one.

An old man, white-haired and wizen, with a face like a knife-blade, and
red, blinking eyes. The face wore a look of eager yet doleful
anticipation, as of a man going to execution and possessed with an
intense desire to feel the edge of the axe. His thin fingers twitched
and fumbled about his pockets, his lips moved, and he shook his head
from time to time. This old gentleman was clad in nankeen trousers of
ancient cut, a velvet waistcoat and a blue swallow-tail coat, all
greatly too large for him. His scant locks were crowned by a cheap straw
hat of the newest make, his shoes and gaiters were of a twenty-year-old
pattern. Altogether, he was not an ordinary-looking old gentleman, nor
was his appearance agreeable; but the village people took no special
notice of him, being well used to Mr. Endymion Scraper and his little
ways. They knew that he was wearing out the clothes that his extravagant
uncle had left behind him at his death, twenty years ago. They had seen
three velvet waistcoats worn out, and one of brocade; there were sixteen
left, as any woman in the village could tell you. As for the nankeen
trousers, some people said there were ten dozen of them in the great
oak chest, but that might be an exaggeration.

Walking just behind this pleasant old person, with feet that tried to go
sedately, and not betray by hopping and skippings the joy that was in
them, came the boy John; brought along in case there should be a parcel
to carry. Mr. Scraper had brought, too, his supple bamboo cane, in case
of need; it was a cane of singular parts, and had a way that was all its
own of curling about the legs and coming up "rap" against the tender
part of the calf. The boy John was intimately acquainted with the cane;
therefore, when his legs refused to go steadily, but danced in spite of
him, he had dropped behind Mr. Endymion, and kept well out of reach of
the searching snake of polished cane.

The Skipper greeted the new-comer with his loftiest courtesy, which was
quite thrown away on the old gentleman.

"Hey! hey!" said Mr. Scraper, nodding his head, and fumbling in his
waistcoat pocket, "got some shells, I hear! Got some shells, eh? Nothing
but rubbish, I'll swear; nothing but rubbish. Seen 'em all before you
were born; not worth looking at, I'll bet a pumpkin."

"Why, Deacon Scraper, how you do talk!" exclaimed pretty Lena Brown, who
was standing near by. "The shells are just elegant, I think; too
handsome for anything."

"All rubbish! all rubbish!" the old gentleman repeated, hastily.
"Children's nonsense, every bit of it. Have you got anything out of the
common, though? have you, hey?"

He looked up suddenly at the Skipper, screwing his little eyes at him
like animated corkscrews; but he read nothing in the large, calm gaze
that met his.

"The gentleman please to step down in the cabin," the Skipper said, with
a stately gesture. "At liberty in a moment, I shall take the pleasure to
exhibit my collection. The gentleman is a collector?" he added, quietly;
but this Mr. Scraper would not hear of.

"Nothing of the sort!" he cried, testily, "nothing of the sort! Just
came down here with this fool boy, to keep him from falling into the
water. Don't know one shell from another when I see 'em."

This astounding statement brought a low cry from John, who had been
standing on one foot with joy and on the other with fear, the grave
dignity of his new friend filling him with awe. Perhaps he would not be
noticed now, when all the grown people were here; perhaps--but his
thoughts were put to flight by Mr. Scraper's words. John was a truthful
boy, and he could not have the Spanish man think he had lied in saying
that the old man was a collector. He was stepping forward, his face
alight with eager protest, when Mr. Endymion Scraper brought his cane
round with a backward sweep, catching John on the legs with spiteful
emphasis. The Skipper saw it, and a dark red flushed through the bronze
of his cheek. His glance caught the child's and held it, speaking anger,
cheer, and the promise of better things; the boy dropped back and
rubbed his smarting shins, well content, with a warm feeling about the
heart.

"The gentleman will step down to the cabin," said the deep, quiet voice.
"I will attend him, the ladies also."

He led the way, and pretty Lena Brown came next; she glanced up at him
as he held out his strong hand to help her down the ladder. Her blue
eyes were very sweet as she met his gaze, and the faint wild-rose blush
became her well. Certainly, Lena was a very pretty girl. Franci nearly
tumbled over the companion-rail in his endeavours to look after her, and
Laurentus Woodcock, catching one glimpse of her face, retreated to the
farthest corner of the after-deck, and sold a Triton for ten cents, when
the lowest price was thirty.

Several other persons came down into the cabin at the same time. There
was Mr. Bill Hen Pike. Mr. Bill Hen had been a sailor himself fifty
years ago, and it was a point of honour with him to visit anything with
keel and sails that came up the river. He used nautical expressions
whenever it could be managed, and was the village authority on all
sea-going matters.

There were Isaac Cutter and his wife, who had money to spend, and were
not averse to showing it; there was Miss Eliza Clinch, who had spent her
fifty years of life in looking for a bargain, which she had not yet
found; and some others. But though the Skipper was courteous to all, he
kept close to the side of Mr. Endymion Scraper; and the boy John, and
Lena Brown, who was always kind to him, kept close beside the other two.
The girl was enchanted with what she saw, but her joy was chiefly in
the trinkets that filled the glass counter,--the necklaces and
bracelets, the shell hairpins and mother-of-pearl portemonnaies.

"Aint they handsome?" she cried, over and over, surveying the treasures
with clasped hands and shining eyes. "Oh, Johnny! isn't that just
elegant? Did you ever see such beautiful things? I don't think the
President's wife has no handsomer than them!"

John frowned a little at these ecstasies, and glanced at the Skipper;
but the Skipper was apparently absorbed in polishing the Royal Tritons,
and showing them to Mr, Scraper, who regarded them with disdainful eyes,
while his fingers twitched to lay hold of them.

"Why, Lena, you don't want to be looking at those things!" the boy
urged. "See! here are the shells! Here are the real ones, not made up
into truck, but just themselves. Oh, oh! Lena, look!"

The Skipper was coming forward with a shell in his hand of exquisite
colour and shape.

"Perhaps the young lady like to see this?" he said. "This the Voluta
Musica,--a valuable shell, young lady. You look, and see the lines of
the staff on the shell, so? Here they run, you see! The mermaids under
the water, they have among themselves no sheet-music, so on shells they
must read it. Can the young lady follow the notes if she take the shell
in her hand?"

He laid the lovely thing in the girl's hand, and marked how the polished
lip and the soft pink palm wore the same tender shade of rose; but he
said nothing of this, for he was not Franci.

Lena examined the shell curiously. "It does look like music!" she said.
"But there ain't really any notes, are there? Not like our notes, I
mean. If there was, I should admire to see how they sounded on the reed
organ. It would make a pretty pin, if 't wasn't so big!"

She was about to hand the shell back quietly--she looked like a
rose-leaf in moonlight, this pretty Lena, but she was practical, and had
little imagination--but John caught it from her with a swift yet
timorous motion.

"I want to hear it," he said, his pleading eyes on the Skipper's face.
"I want to hear what it says!"

The dark man nodded and smiled; but a moment later, seeing the lean
fingers of Mr. Endymion Scraper about to clutch the treasure, he took it
quietly in his own hand again, and turned to the old man.

"Gentleman spoke to me?" he inquired, blandly.

The gentleman had not spoken, but had made a series of gasps and grunts,
expressive of extreme impatience and eagerness.

"That's a poor specimen," he cried now, eying the shell greedily, "a
very poor specimen! What do you expect to get for it, hey?"

"A perfect specimen!" replied the Skipper, calmly. "The gentleman has
but to look at it closer"--and he held it nearer to the greedy corkscrew
eyes--"to see that it is a rare specimen, more perfect than often seen
in museums. I brought up this shell myself, with care choosing it; its
price is five dollars."

Mr. Endymion Scraper gave a scream, which he tried to turn into a
disdainful chuckle.

"Five cents would be nearer it!" he cried, angrily. "Think we're all
fools down here, hey? Go 'long with your five dollars."

"No, Señor, not all fools!" said the Skipper. "Many varieties among men,
as among shells. I am in no haste to sell the Voluta Musica. It has its
price, as gentleman knows by his catalogue. Here is a razor-shell;
perhaps the gentleman like that. Shave yourself or other people with
this!"

"I want to know!" interposed Mrs. Isaac Cutter, leaning forward eagerly,
spectacles on nose. "Can folks really shave with those, sir? They do
look sharp, now, don't they? What might you ask for a pair?"

"Perhaps not very easy to grind, lady!" replied the Skipper, with a
smile which won Mrs. Isaac's heart. "Not a rare shell, only fifty cents
the pair. Thank you, madam! To show you this? With gladness! This is the
Bleeding Tooth shell, found in plenty in West Indies. They have also
dentists under the sea, graciously observe. See here,--the whole family!
The baby, he have as yet no tooth, the little gum smooth and white.
Here, the boy! (_Como ti_, Juan Colorado!" this in a swift aside, caught
only by John's ear.) "The boy, he have a tooth pulled, you observe,
madam; here the empty space, with blood-mark, thus. Hence the name,
Bleeding Tooth. Here the father, getting old, has lost two teeth,
bleeding much; and this being the old grandfather, all teeth are gone,
again. Yes, curious family! You kindly accept these persons, madam,
with a wish that you never suffer of this manner."

Mrs. Isaac Cutter drew a long breath, and took the shells with a look of
delighted awe. "Well, I'm sure!" she said, "you're more than kind, sir.
I never thought--I do declare--Bleeding Tooth! Well, father, if that
isn't something to tell the folks at home!" Mr. Isaac Cutter grunted,
well pleased, and said, "That so!" several times, his vocabulary being
limited.

"Again, here," the Skipper continued, with a glance around, to make sure
that his audience was attentive, "again, here a curious thing, ladies
and gentlemen. The Nighthawk shell, not common in any part of the world.
The two halves held together of this manner, behold the nighthawk, as he
flies through the air!"

A murmur of delight ran through the little group, and Mr. Endymion
Scraper edged to the front, his fingers twitching convulsively.

"How much--how much do you want for that Nighthawk?" he asked,
stammering with eagerness. "'Taint wuth much, but--what--ten dollars?
I'll give ye three, and not a cent more."

But the Skipper put him aside with a wave of his hand.

"Another time, sir," he said; "at future interview I will make
arrangements with you, and hope to satisfy; at present I instruct these
ladies a little in life under the sea.

"Lady," he said, and it was observable that although he spoke to Mrs.
Isaac Cutter, his eyes rested on Lena, and on the boy John, who stood
behind her, "Nature of her abundance is very generous to the sea. Here
all fishes swim, great and small; but more! All things that on earth
find their place, of them you find a picture, copy, what you please to
call it, at the bottom of the sea. A few only are yet found by men, yet
strange things also have I seen. Not under the ocean do you think to
find violets growing, is it so? yet here you observe a handful of
violets, in colour as on a green bank, though without perfume, the
sunshine wanting in those places."

He drew from a box some of the exquisite little violet snail-shells, and
gave them to Lena, who cried out with delight, and instantly resolved to
have a pair of ear-rings made of them.

"The ladies are hungry?" the quiet voice went on. "They desire
breakfast? I offer them a poached egg, grown under the sea. The colour
and shape perfect; the water ladies eat them every morning, but with the
air they grow hard and lose their flavour. Thank you, madam! for thirty
cents only, the poached egg, not a rare variety. Your smile perhaps will
make it soft again. I hope you enjoy it at luncheon.

"But before luncheon you desire to prepare your charming toilet? Here I
offer you a comb, ladies, as they use under the sea. The story, that
Venus, goddess of beauty, when she rose from the ocean, dropped from her
hand the comb with which she arranged even then her locks of gold: hence
the name, Venus's Comb. Observe the long teeth, necessary for fine hair,
like that of Venus and these ladies."

Mrs. Isaac Cutter bridled, smoothed her "fluffy Fedora" (price one
dollar and fifty cents, ready curled), and bought the "comb" on the
spot.

"Of little boys under the sea," the Skipper continued,--and once more
his smile fell on the boy John, and produced that agreeable sensation of
warmth about the heart to which the little fellow had been long
unaccustomed,--"there are many. They swim about, they play, they sport,
they go to school, as little boys here. They ride, some persons have
told me, on the horse-mackerel, but of that I have no knowledge. I see
for myself, however, that they play tops, the small sea-boys. Here,
little gentleman, is the Imperial Top,--very beautiful shell. You like
to take it in your hand?"

John took the splendid thing, and straightway lost himself and the world
in a dream of rapture, in which he descended to the depths that his soul
desired, and played at spinning tops with the sea-boys, and rode a
horse-mackerel, and did many other wonderful things.

"The bat shell!" the Skipper went on, lifting one treasure and then
another. "The Voluta Aulica, extremely rare,--the Mitres, worn by
bishops under the sea. The bishops must be chosen very small, lady, to
fit the shell, since shells were made first. The Queen Conch! This
again,--pardon me, gentleman, you desire to assist me? Too kind, but I
shall not give that trouble to a visitor!"

The last remark was addressed to Mr. Endymion Scraper, who had for the
last five minutes been sidling quietly, and as he thought unobserved,
toward the shelf on which lay the Voluta Musica. His claw-like fingers,
after hovering over the prize, had finally closed upon it, and he was
about to slip it into his pocket without more ado, when a strong brown
hand descended upon his wrist. The shell was quietly taken from him, and
looking up in impotent rage, he met the dark eyes of the Skipper gazing
at him with cheerful gravity.

"Price five dollars!" he murmured, courteously. "In a box, gentleman?
But, certainly! A valuable specimen. Thank you kindly. Five-dollar bill,
quite right! Exhibition is over for this morning, ladies and gentlemen,
to resume in afternoon hours, if graciously pleased to honour the shell
schooner,--schooner 'Nautilus,' from the Bahamas, with remarkable
collection of marine curiosities."



CHAPTER IV.

ABOARD THE "NAUTILUS."

The shell schooner had many visitors during the next few days, as she
lay by the wharf; visitors, of whom a few came to buy, but by far the
greater part to look and gossip, and see the monkeys, and ask questions.
The monkeys, Jack and Jim, were no small part of the attraction, being
delightful little beasts, bright of eye and friendly of heart, always
ready to turn a somersault, or to run up the mast, or to make a bow to
the ladies (always with Franci in their hearts), as the Skipper directed
them.

Of course John was there at every available minute, whenever he could
escape the searching of his guardian's eye and tongue; but Mr. Scraper
himself came several times to the "Nautilus;" so did pretty Lena Brown.
There was no doubt that Lena was a charming girl. She looked like
moonlight, Rento thought; John thought so, too, though he knew that the
resemblance went no further than looks. Her hair was soft and light,
with a silvery glint when the sun struck it, and it had a pretty trick
of falling down about her forehead in two Madonna-like bands, framing
the soft, rose-tinted cheeks sweetly enough, and hiding with the pale
shining tresses the narrowness of the white forehead.

Lena was apt to come with John, to whom she was always kind, though she
thought him "cracked," and after a little desultory hovering about the
shells, for which she did not really care, except when they were made up
with glass beads, she was apt to sit down on the after-deck, with John
beside her (unless the Skipper appeared, in which case the boy flew to
join his new friend), and with Franci, or Rento, or both, sure to be
near by. The monkeys never failed to come and nestle down beside the
boy, and examine his pockets and chatter confidentially in his ear; and
John always nodded and seemed to understand, which Lena considered
foolishness. She thought she came out of pure kindness for the boy,
because "that old gimlet never would let him come alone, and the child
was fairly possessed about the shells;" but it is to be doubted whether
she would have come so often if it had not been for Franci's admiring
glances and Rento's deeper veneration, which seldom dared to look higher
than the hem of her gown.

She would sit very demurely on the after-deck, apparently absorbed in
the shells and corals that lay spread before her; and by-and-by, it
might be, Franci, who did not suffer from shyness, would venture on
something more definite than admiring glances.

He would show her the shells, making the most of his knowledge, which
was not extensive, and calling in invention when information failed; but
he liked better to talk of himself, Franci, and on that subject there
was plenty to be said. He was a prince, he told Lena, in South America,
where he came from. This was a poor country, miserable country; but in
his own the houses were all of marble, pink marble, with mahogany
door-steps.

"Is that so?" Lena would say, raising her limpid eyes to the dark
velvety ones that were bent so softly on her.

"Oh, fine! fine!" said Franci. "Never I eat from a china dish in my
country; silver, all silver! Only the pigs eat from china. Drink wine,
eat peaches and ice-cream all days, all time. My sister wear gold
clothes, trimmed diamonds, when she do her washing. Yes! Like to go
there?" and he bent over Lena with an enchanting smile.

"Why do you tell such lies?" asked John, whom Franci had not observed,
as he was lying in one of the schooner's boats, with a monkey on either
arm. Franci's smile deepened as he turned toward the boy, swearing
softly in Spanish, and feeling in his breast; but at that moment Rento
happened to stroll that way, blushing deeply at Lena's nearness, yet
with a warlike expression in his bright blue eyes. Franci told him he
was the son of a pig that had died of the plague, and that he, Franci,
devoutly hoped the son would share the fate of his mother, without time
to consult a priest. Rento replied that he could jaw as much as he was a
mind to, so long as he let the boy alone; and Lena looked from one to
the other with a flush on her pretty cheek, and an instinct that made
her heart beat a little faster.

Mr. Scraper's visits were apt to be made in the evening; his passion for
shells was like that for drink, and he would fain have hidden it from
the eyes of his neighbours. It was always a trial to Franci to know
that the old miser, as he called Mr. Endymion, was in the cabin, and
that he, Franci, must keep watch on deck while this withered anatomy sat
on the cabin chairs and drank with the Patron. Franci's way of keeping
watch was to lie at full length on the deck with his feet in the air,
smoking cigarettes. It was not the regulation way, but Franci did not
care for that. That beast of a Rento was asleep, snoring like a pig that
he was, while his betters must keep awake and gaze at this desolating
prospect; the Patron was in the cabin with the miser, and no one thought
of the individual who alone gave charm to the schooner. He, Franci,
would make himself as comfortable as might be, and would not care a puff
of his cigar if the schooner and all that were in it, except himself,
should go to the bottom the next minute. No! Rather would he dance for
joy, and wave his hand, and cry, "Good voyage, Patron! Good voyage,
brute of a pig-faced Rento! Good voyage, old 'Nautilus!' Go all to the
bottom with my blessing, and I dance on the wharf, and marry the pretty
Lena, and get all the old miser's money, and wear velvet coats. Ah!
Franci, my handsome little boy, why did you let them send you to sea,
hearts of stone that they were! You, born to shine, to adorn, to break
the hearts of maidens! Why? tell me that!" He waved his legs in the air,
and contemplated with delight their proportions, which were certainly
exquisite. "Caramba!" he murmured; "beauty, that is it! Otherwise one
might better be a swine,--yes, truly!"

At this point, perhaps, Rento appeared, rubbing his eyes, evidently
just awake, and ready to take his watch; whereupon the beautiful one sat
up, and, fixing his eyes on his fellow-seaman, executed a series of
grimaces which did great credit to his invention and power of facial
expression. Then he delivered himself of an harangue in purest Spanish,
to the effect that the day was not far distant when he, Franci, would
slit Rento's nose with a knife, and carve his initials on his cheeks,
and finally run him through the so detestable body and give him to the
fish to devour, though with strong fears of his disagreeing with them.
To which Rento replied that he might try it just as soon as he was a
mind to, but that at this present moment he was to get out; which the
beautiful youth accordingly did, retiring with a dancing step,
expressive of scorn and disgust.

On one such night as this the scene in the little cabin was a curious
one. A lamp burned brightly on the table, and its lights shone on a
number of objects, some lying openly on the green table-cover, some
reclining superbly in velvet-lined cases. Shells! Yes, but not such
shells as were heaped in profusion on shelf and counter. Those were
lovely, indeed, and some of them of considerable value; but it was a
fortune, no less, that lay now spread before the eyes of the Skipper and
his guest. For these were the days when fine shells could not be bought
on every hand, as they can to-day; when a good specimen of the Imperial
Harp brought two hundred and fifty dollars easily, and when a collector
would give anything, even to the half of his kingdom (if he were a
collector of the right sort), for a Precious Wentletrap.

[Illustration]

It was a Wentletrap on which the little red eyes of Mr. Endymion
Scraper were fixed at this moment. The morocco case in which it lay was
lined with crimson velvet, and the wonderful shell shone purely white
against the glowing colour,--snow upon ice; for the body of the shell
was semi-transparent, the denser substance of the spiral whorls turning
them to heavy snow against the shining clearness beneath them. Has any
of my readers seen a Precious Wentletrap? Then he knows one of the most
beautiful things that God has made.

Apparently the Skipper had just opened the case, for Mr. Scraper was
sitting with his mouth wide open, staring at it with greedy, almost
frightened eyes. Truly, a perfect specimen of this shell was, in those
days, a thing seen only in kings' cabinets; yet no flaw appeared in
this, no blot upon its perfect beauty. The old miser sat and stared, and
only his hands, which clutched the table-cloth in a convulsive grasp,
and his greedy eyes, showed that he was not turned to stone. He had been
amazed enough by the other treasures, as the Skipper had taken them one
by one from the iron safe in the corner, whose door now hung idly open.
Where had been seen such Pheasants as these,--the fragile, the
exquisite, the rarely perfect? Even the Australian Pheasant, rarest of
all, lay here before him, with its marvellous pencillings of rose and
carmine and gray. Mr. Endymion's mouth had watered at the mere
description of the shell in the catalogue, but he had never thought to
see one, except the imperfect specimen in the museum at Havenborough.
Here, too, was the Orange Cowry; here the Bishop's Mitre, and the
precious Voluta Aulica; while yonder,--what was this man, that he should
have a Voluta Junonia, of which only a few specimens are possessed in
the known world? What did it all mean?

The Skipper sat beside the table, quiet and self-contained as usual. His
arm lay on the table, his hand was never far from the more precious
shells, and his eyes did not leave the old man's face; but he showed no
sign of uneasiness. Why should he, when he could have lifted Mr.
Endymion with his left hand and set him at any minute at the top of the
cabin stairs? Now and then he took up a shell with apparent carelessness
(though in reality he handled them with fingers as fine as a woman's,
knowing their every tenderest part, and where they might best be
approached without offence to their delicacy), looked it over, and made
some remark about its quality or value; but for the most part he was
silent, letting the shells speak for themselves and make their own
effect.

The old man had been wheezing and grunting painfully for some minutes,
opening and shutting his hands, and actually scratching the table-cloth
in his distress. At length he broke out, after a long silence.

"Who are ye, I want to know? How come you by these shells? I know
something about what they're wuth--that is--well, I know they aint wuth
what you say they are, well enough; but they air wuth a good deal,--I
know that. What I want to understand is, what you're after here! What do
you want, and why do you show me these things if--if--you come by them
honestly. Hey?"

The Skipper smiled meditatively. "Yes!" he said, "we all like to know
things,--part of our nature, sir--part of our nature. I, now, I like to
know things, too. What you going to do with that boy, Mr. Scrape? I like
to know that. You tell me, and perhaps you hear something about the
shells, who know?"

The old man's face darkened into a very ugly look.

"My name is Scraper, thank ye, not Scrape!" he said, dryly; "and as for
the boy, I don't know exactly where you come in there."

The Skipper nodded. "True!" he said, tracing with his finger the fine
lines of the Voluta Aulica; "you do not know where I come in there. In
us both, knowledge has a limit, Mr. Scraper; yet I at the least am
acquaint with your name. It is a fine name you have there,--Endymion!
You should be a person of poetry, with this and your love for shells,
hein? You love, without doubt, to gaze on the moon, Sir Scraper? You
feel with her a connection, yes?"

"What the dickens are you talking about?" asked the old gentleman,
testily. "How much do you want to swindle me out of for this Junonia,
hey? not that I shall buy it, mind ye!"

"Three hundred!" said the Skipper; "and a bargain at that!"



CHAPTER V.

MYSTERY.


John was at work in the garden. At least, so it would have appeared to
an ordinary observer; in reality he was carrying on a sanguinary combat,
and dealing death on every side. His name was George Washington, and he
was at Bunker Hill (where he certainly had no business to be), and the
British were intrenched behind the cabbages. "They've just got down into
the ground, they are so frightened!" he said to himself, pausing to
straighten his aching back, and toss the red curls out of his eyes. "See
'em, all scrooched down, with their feet in the earth, trying to make
believe they grow there! But I'll have 'em out! Whack! there goes the
general. Come out, I say!" He wrestled fiercely with an enormous
Britisher, disguised as a stalk of pig-weed, and, after a breathless
tussle, dragged him bodily out of the ground, and flung his headless
corpse on the neighbouring pile of weeds.

"Ha! that was fine!" cried the boy. "I shouldn't be a bit surprised if
that was George the Third himself; it was ugly enough for him. Come up
here! hi! down with you! Now Jack the Giant-Killer is coming to help me,
and the British have got Cormoran (this was before Jack killed him), and
there's going to be a terrible row." But General Washington waves his
gallant sword, and calls to his men, and says,--

"Good morning, sir! you make a busy day, I see."

It was not General Washington who spoke. It was the Skipper, and he was
leaning on the gate and looking at the boy John and smiling. "You make a
busy day," he repeated. "I think there are soon no more weeds in Sir
Scraper's garden."

"Oh, yes!" cried John, straightening himself again, and leaning on his
trusty hoe. "There'll be just as many--I beg your pardon! Good morning!
I hope you are well; it is a very fine day. There'll be just as many of
them to-morrow, or next day, certainly. I make believe they are the
British, you see, and I've been fighting all the morning, and I do think
they are pretty well licked by this time; but they don't stay licked,
the British don't. I like them for that, don't you? Even though it is a
bother to go on fighting all the days of one's life."

"I also have noticed that of the British!" the Skipper said, nodding
gravely. "But now you can rest a little, Juan Colorado? Sir Scraper is
at home, that you call him for me, say I desire to make him the visit?"

"No, he isn't at home," said John. "He's gone down to the store for his
mail. But please come in and wait, and he'll be back soon. Do come in!
It--it's cool to rest, after walking in the sun."

It was the only inducement the child could think of, but he offered it
with right good-will. The Skipper assented with a smile and a nod, and
the two passed into the house together.

In the kitchen, which was the living-room of the house, John halted,
and brought a chair for his visitor, and prepared to play the host as
well as he could; but the visitor seemed, for some reason, not to fancy
the kitchen. He looked around with keen, searching eyes, scanning every
nook and corner in the bare little room. Truly, there was not much to
see. The old fireplace had been blocked up, and in its place was the
usual iron cooking-stove, with a meagre array of pots and pans hanging
behind it. The floor was bare; the furniture, a table and chair, with a
stool for John. There was no provision for guests; but that did not
matter, as Mr. Scraper never had guests. Altogether, there was little
attraction in the kitchen, and the Skipper seemed curiously displeased
with its aspect.

"There is no other room?" he asked, after completing his survey. "No
better room than this, Colorado? Surely, there must be one other; yes,
of course!" he added, as if struck by a sudden thought. "His shells? Mr.
Scraper has shells. They are--where?"

He paused and looked sharply at the boy. Little John coloured high.
"The--the shells?" he stammered. "Yes, of course, sir, the shells are in
another room, in the parlour; but--but--I am not let go in there, unless
Mr. Scraper sends me."

"So!" said the dark man; "but for me, Colorado, how is it for me? Mr.
Scraper never said to me that I must not go in this parlour, you see.
For you it is well, you do as you are told; you are a boy that makes
himself to trust; for me, I am a Skipper from the Bahamas, I do some
things that are strange to you,--among them, this. I go into the
parlour."

He nodded lightly, and leaving the child open-mouthed in amazement,
opened the sacred door, the door of the best parlour, and went in, as
unconcernedly as if it were his own cabin. John, standing at the
door,--he surely might go as far as the door, if he did not step over
the threshold,--watched him, and his eyes grew wider and wider, and his
breath came quicker and quicker.

For the Skipper was doing strange things, as he had threatened.
Advancing quickly into the middle of the room, he cast around him the
same searching glance with which he had scanned the kitchen. He went to
the window, and threw back the blinds. The sunlight streamed in, as if
it, too, were eager to see what shrouded treasures were kept secluded
here. Probably the blinds had not been thrown back since Gran'ther
Scraper died.

The parlour was scarcely less grim than the kitchen, though there was a
difference in its grimness. Seven chairs stood against the wall, like
seven policemen with their hands behind their backs; a table crouched in
the middle, its legs bent as if to spring. The boy John considered the
table a monster, transformed by magic into its present shape, and likely
to be released at any moment, and to leap at the unwary intruder. Its
faded cover, with two ancient ink-blots which answered for eyes,
fostered this idea, which was a disquieting one. On the wall hung two
silver coffin-plates in a glass case, testifying that Freeborn Scraper,
and Elmira his wife, had been duly buried, and that their coffins had
presented a good appearance at the funeral. But the glory of the room,
in the boy John's eyes, was the cabinet of shells which stood against
the opposite wall. He had once thought this the chief ornament of the
world; he knew better now, but still he regarded its treasures with awe
and veneration, and looked to see the expression of delight which should
overspread the features of his new friend at sight of it. What, then,
was his amazement to see his new friend pass over the cabinet with a
careless glance, as if it were the most ordinary thing in the world!
Evidently, it was not shells that he had come to see; and the boy grew
more and more mystified. Suddenly the dark eyes lightened; the whole
face flashed into keen attention. What had the Skipper seen? Nothing,
apparently, but the cupboard in the corner, the old cupboard where Mr.
Scraper kept his medicines. The old man had sent John to this cupboard
once, when he himself was crippled with rheumatism, to fetch him a
bottle of the favourite remedy of the day. John remembered its inward
aspect, with rows of dusty bottles, and on the upper shelf, rows of
still more dusty papers. What could the Skipper see to interest him in
the corner cupboard? Something, certainly! For now he was opening the
cupboard, quietly, as if he knew all about it and was looking for
something that he knew to be there.

"Ah!" said the Skipper; and he drew a long breath, as of relief. "True,
the words! In the corner of the parlour, a cupboard of three corners,
with bottles filled, and over the bottles, papers. Behold the cupboard,
the bottles, the papers! A day of fortunes!" He bent forward, and
proceeded to rummage in the depths of the cupboard; but this was too
much for John's conscience. "I beg your pardon, sir!" he said, timidly.
"But--do you think you ought to do that?"

The Skipper looked out of the cupboard for an instant, and his eyes were
very bright. "Yes, Colorado," he said. "I think I ought to do this! Oh,
very much indeed, my friend, I ought to do this! And here,"--he stepped
back, holding something in his hand,--"here, it is done! No more
disturbance, Colorado; I thank you for your countenance.

"Do we now make a promenade in the garden, to see your work?

"Yet," he added, pausing and again looking around him, "but yet once
more I observe. This room,"--it was strange, he did not seem to like the
parlour any better than he had liked the kitchen--"this room, to live
in! a young person, figure it, Colorado! gentle, with desires, with
dreams of beauty, and this only to behold! For companion an ancient
onion,--I say things that are improper, my son! I demand pardon! But for
a young person, a maiden to live here, would be sad indeed, do you think
it?"

John pondered, in wonder and some trouble of mind. There was something
that he had to say, something very hard; but it would not be polite just
now, and he must answer a question when he was asked. "I--I thought it
was a fine room!" he said at length, timidly. "It isn't as bright,
somehow, as where I used to live with my mother, and--it seems to stay
shut up, even when it isn't; but--I guess it's a fine room, sir; and
then, if a person didn't like it, there's all out-doors, you know, and
that's never shut up."

"True!" cried the Skipper, with a merry laugh; "out of doors is never
shut up, praise be to Heaven!" He pulled off his cap, and looked up at
the shining sky. They were standing on the door-step now, and John
noticed that his companion seemed much less grave than usual. He
laughed, he patted the boy on the shoulder, he hummed snatches of
strange, sweet melodies. Once or twice he broke out into speech, but it
was foreign speech, and John knew nothing save that it was something
cheerful. They walked about the garden, and the Skipper surveyed John's
work, and pronounced it prodigious. He questioned the child closely,
too, as to how he lived, and what he did, and why he stayed with Mr.
Scraper. But the child could tell him little. He supposed it was all
right; his mother was dead, and there was nobody else, and Mr. Scraper
said he was his father's uncle, and that the latter had appointed him
guardian over John in case of the mother's death. That was all, he
guessed.

"All, my faith!" cried the Skipper, gayly. "Enough, too, Colorado! quite
enough, in the opinion of me. But I go, my son! Till a little while; you
will come to-day to the 'Nautilus,' yes?"

But little John stood still in the path, and looked up in his friend's
face. The time had come when he must do the hard thing, and it was
harder even than he had thought it would be. His throat was very dry,
and he tried once or twice before the words would come. At last--"I beg
your pardon!" he said. "I am only a little boy, and perhaps there is
something I don't understand; but--but--I don't think you ought to have
done that!"

"Done what, son of mine?" asked the Skipper, gazing down at him with the
bright, kind eyes that he loved, and that would not be kind the next
moment, perhaps. "What is it I have done?"

"To take the papers!" said John; and now his voice was steady, and he
knew quite well what he must say, if only his heart would not beat so
loud in his ears! "I don't think it was right; but perhaps you know
things that make it right for you. But--but Mr. Scraper left me here, to
take care of the house, and--and I shall have to tell him that you went
into the parlour and took things out of the cupboard."

There was silence for a moment,--silence, all but the throbbing that
seemed as if it must deafen the child, as it was choking him. He stood
looking at the ground, his face in a flame, his eyes full of hot,
smarting tears. Was it he who had stolen the papers? Surely anyone would
have thought so who saw his anguish of confusion. And the Skipper did
not speak! And this was his friend, the first heart-friend the child had
ever had, perhaps the only one that would ever come to him, and he was
affronting him, casting him off, accusing him of vileness! Unable to
bear the pain any longer, the child looked up at last, and as he did so,
the tears overflowed and ran down his round cheeks. The dark eyes were
as kind as ever. They were smiling, oh, so tenderly! John hid his face
on his blue sleeve, and sobbed to his heart's content; somehow, without
a word, the dreadful pain was gone, and the blessed feeling had returned
that this friend knew all about things, and understood little boys, and
liked them.

The Skipper did not speak for a moment, only stood and stroked the boy's
curly hair with a light, soft touch, almost as his mother used to stroke
it. Then he said, in his deep, grave voice, that was sweeter than music,
John thought.

"Colorado! my little son, my friend!" That was enough for a few minutes,
till the sobs were quieted, and only the little breast heaved and sank,
tremulously, like the breast of a frightened bird. Then the Skipper led
him to a rustic bench, and sat down beside him, and took his hand.

"And that hurt you to say, my little son?" he said, smiling. "That hurt
you, because you thought it would vex the friend from the Bahamas, the
friend who steals. And yet you like him a little, is it not?"

"Oh!" cried John, looking up with all his heart in his blue eyes; and no
other word was needed.

"See, then!" the Skipper went on, still holding the boy's hand; "it is
that you are right, Colorado, oh, very right, my son! and I, who am old,
but old enough to be twice to you a father, I thought not of this. Yes,
you must tell Sir Scraper, if--if I do not tell him first." He was
silent a moment, thinking; and then continued, speaking slowly, choosing
his words with care: "Is it that you think, Colorado, it would be wrong
to wait a little before you tell Sir Scraper--if I said, till
to-morrow? If I ask you to wait, and then, if I have not told him, you
shall tell him,--what do you say of that, my son?"

John looked helplessly around, his blue eyes growing big and wistful
again. "If--if he should ask me!" he said. "I am sure you know all about
it, and that it is all right for you, but if he should ask me--you
see--I--I should have to answer him, shouldn't I?"

"You would have to answer him!" the Skipper repeated, frowning
thoughtfully. "And you could not tell him that there were flying-fish in
the cabin, eh, Colorado? Wait then, that your friend thinks. The mind
moves at times slowly, my son, slowly!"

He was silent, and John watched him, breathless.

Presently, "Will you come with me, Colorado?" asked the Skipper. "I
invite you to come, to spend the day on the 'Nautilus,' to play with
Jack and Jim, to polish the shells,--what you please. I desire not
longer to wait here, I desire not that yet Sir Scraper know of my visit.
Had he been here, other happenings might have been; as it is--shortly,
will you come with me, Colorado?"

John shut his eyes tight, and took possession of his soul.

"I promised!" he said, "I promised him that if he would not whip me this
morning I would not stir off the place. He was mad because I went
yesterday, and he was going to give me a good one this morning, and I
hadn't got over the last good one, and so--I promised that! But if I had
known you were coming," he cried, "I would not have promised, and I
would have taken three good ones, if I could only go."

The Skipper nodded, and was silent again. Suddenly he rose to his feet.

"Have you heard of pirates, Colorado?" he asked, abruptly.

John nodded, wondering.

"Of Malay pirates?" the Skipper continued, with animation. "They are
wild fellows, those! They come, they see a person, they carry him off,
to keep at their fancy, till a ransom is paid, or till he grow old and
die, or till they kill him the next day, who knows? But not all are bad
fellows, and there are some of them who are kind to captives, who take
them on board their ships, play with them, show to them strange things,
shells and fish and corals, all things. Have you ever played at pirate,
Colorado?"

"Yes, sometimes," the boy admitted, wondering still more at the
brightness in his friend's look, and his air of sudden determination.

"I never played Malay, only Portugee; I thought they weren't so cruel,
but I don't know. I had a ship down by the wharf, and I made a good many
pirate voyages round the wharf, and sometimes quite a piece down river,
when I could get the time. But then, after a while, I thought it was
nicer to be a rescuing ship, and get folks away from the pirates, you
know, so I've done that lately, and I've rescued as many as twenty
vessels, I should think."

"That was fine!" said the Skipper, nodding sagely. "That was well done,
Colorado! But here we come to trouble, do you see? for I that speak to
you--I am a Malay pirate!"

The boy started violently and looked up, expecting he knew not what
sudden and awful change in the face that bent down over him; but no! it
was the same quiet, dark face, only there was a bright gleam in the
eyes. A gleam of fun, was it? Surely not of ferocity.

"I come up this river," the Skipper continued, rapidly, "to see what I
find,--perhaps gold, perhaps silver, perhaps prisoners of value. I look
about, I see the pleasant village, I see persons very amiable, but no
precious thing except one; that one, I have it! I am a Malay pirate,
Colorado, and thus I carry off my prize!" and picking up the child as if
he were a feather, and tossing him up to his shoulder, the Skipper
strode from the garden, and took his way toward the wharf.



CHAPTER VI.

MR. BILL HEN.


Mr. Bill Hen Pike had come to have a good long gossip. It was some time
since a schooner had come up the river, for the ice-shipping had not yet
begun, and he was fairly thirsting for maritime intelligence. He desired
to know the tonnage of the "Nautilus," her age, where she was built, and
by whom; her original cost, and what sums had been expended in repairs
since she had been in the Skipper's possession; how many trips she had
made, to what ports, and with what cargoes; the weather that had been
encountered on each and every trip. These things and many more of like
import did the Skipper unfold, sitting at ease on the cabin table, while
Mr. Bill Hen tilted the only chair in rhythmic content. His hat was
tilted, too; his broad red face shone with pleasure; the world was a
good place to him, full of information.

At last the questions came to an end; it seemed a pity, but there was
really nothing left to ask, since it appeared that the Skipper was
unmarried and had no relations. But now the Skipper's own turn had come,
and quietly, with just enough show of interest to be polite, he began
the return game. "You have been at sea a large part of your life, Señor
Pike?"

"Oh, yes! yes! I'm well used to the sea. That is--off and on, you know,
off and on. I was mate on a coasting schooner, saw a good deal that way,
you know; like the sea first-rate, but my wife, she won't hear to my
going off nowadays, and there's the farm to 'tend to, stock and hay,
var'ous things, var'ous things; all about it, my sea-going days are
over, yes, yes! Pleasant place, though, pleasant place, though the
strength going out of my legs makes it troublesome by times, yes, yes!
Been in these parts before, you said? Oh, no! said you hadn't; beg your
pardon! Pleasant part of the country! good soil, good neighbours."

"Fine country, I should suppose!" said the Skipper; "and as you say,
sir, the persons agreeable for knowledge. You know the boy whom I hear
called John, with the old gentleman who collects shells?"

"Oh! ho!" said Mr. Bill Hen, delighted to find a fresh subject of
interest. "Deacon Scraper, yes, yes! well named, sir, Deacon Scraper is,
well named, you see! Very close man, pizeon close they do say. Lived
here all his life, Deacon Scraper has, and made a fortune. Scraped it,
some say, out of folks as weren't so well off as he, but I don't know.
Keen after shells, the old gentleman, yes, yes! like liquor to him, I've
heard say. Never a man to drink or what you might call royster, no way
of the world but just that; but get him off to Boston, or any place
where there were shells to be bought, and he'd come home fairly drunk
with 'em, his trunk busting out and all his money gone. Seems cur'ous,
too, for such an old rip as Dym Scraper, _to_ care for such things; but
we're made sing'lar,--one one way, and 'nother one t'other. That's so,
I reckon, in your part of the world as well as hereabouts?"

The Skipper bowed his head gravely. "The nature of humans is without
doubt the same in many lands," he said. "The little boy whom I hear
called John,--he is of near blood to this old gentleman, yes?"

But here Mr. Bill Hen grew redder in the face, which was a difficult
feat, and smote the cabin table.

"Burning shame it is about that youngster!" he declared. "Burning shame,
if ever there was one in this mortal world. How some folks can set by
and see things going on _as_ they're going on, beats me, and le' me say
I'm hard to beat. That child, sir, is an orphan; got no father nor
mother, let alone grandf'ther or grandm'ther, in the land of the living.
His father was some kind of a natural, I guess, or else he hadn't known
Deacon Scraper by sight or hearing; but when he dies what does he do but
leave that old--old--beetle-bug guardeen of that child, case of his
mother dyin'. Well, if I'd ha' had children, I might leave 'em to a fox
for guardeen, or I might leave 'em to a horned pout, whichever I was a
mind to, but I wouldn't leave 'em to Dym Scraper, and you can chalk that
up on the door any ways you like." The good man paused, and puffed and
snorted for some minutes in silence. The Skipper waited, his dark face
quietly attentive, his eyes very bright.

"Near blood?" Mr. Bill Hen broke out again, with another blow on the
table. "No, he aint so dretful near blood, if you come to that. Near as
the child's got, though, seemin'ly. His father, Johnny's father, was son
to Freeborn Scraper, the Deacon's twin brother. Twins they was, though
no more alike than pork and peas. Them two, and Zenoby, the sister, who
married off with a furriner and was never heerd of again; but she ain't
in the story, though some say she was her father's favourite, and that
Dym gave her no peace, after Freeborn left, till he got rid of her. All
about it, Freeborn went West young, and spent his days there; lived
comfortable, and left means when he died. Dym Scraper, he went out to
the funeral, and run it, we heerd, Freeborn's wife being dead and his
son weakly; anyway, he brung back them two silver coffin-plates that
hangs in the parlour to his house. Next thing we knew--good while after,
y' understand, but first thing _we_ knew, here to the village--the son
was dead, too; Mahlon his name was, and had been weakly all his days.
Deacon Scraper went out agin, and kinder scraped round, folks reckoned,
'peared to make of the young widder, and meeched up to her, and all.
Wal! And here this last year, if _she_ doesn't up and die! Sing'lar gift
folks has for dying out in them parts; living so fur from the sea, I've
always cal'lated. All about it, that old spider goes out the third time,
and no coffin-plates this time, but he brings back the boy; and lo, ye!
he's made full guardeen over the child, and has him, body and soul.

"Now I aint a malicious man, no way of the world, Mister,--well,
whatever your name is. But I tell you, that old weasel is laying for
something ugly about that youngster. Some say he's applied to send him
to the Reform School; good little boy as I'd want to see. I believe
it's so. Don't tell me! He's got money, that child has, or land, and Dym
Scraper means to have it. The child's got no one in the world to look
to, and folks about here are so skeered of Deacon Scraper that they'll
set by, I believe, and see a thing like that done before their eyes. I
tell ye what, sir, I'm a church-member, and I don't want to say nothing
but what's right and proper; but if there was a prophet anyways handy in
these times (and a mighty good thing to have round, too), there'd be
fire and brimstun called, down on Dym Scraper, and the hull village
would turn out to see him get it, too!"

"But you, sir!" said the Skipper, who had his knife out now, and was
carving strange things on the table, as was his manner when moved. "You
will not permit such a thing, a person of heart as you have the air to
be? No, you will not permit that a thing enormous take place at your
side?"

Mr. Bill Hen's face grew purple; he drew out a large handkerchief and
wiped his forehead, puffing painfully; there was a pause.

"Married man?" he said, at length. "No, beg your pardon, unmarried, I
remember. Well, sir, you may know something of life, but there's a sight
you don't know yet. See?"

Again there was silence, the Skipper gazing darkly at his carven runes,
Mr. Bill Hen still puffing and wiping his brow.

"Yes, there's a sight you don't know about," he said again. "My wife,
you see, she's a good woman, there's no better woman round; but she's
masterful, sir, she's masterful, and I'm a man who's always led a quiet
life and desire peace. And there's more behind; though why on the airth
I'm telling you all this is more than I can tell!"

The last words came with a peevish outburst, and he hesitated, as if
minded to say no more; but the Skipper raised his head, and the dark
eyes sent out a compelling glance. The weaker man faltered, gave way,
and resumed his speech.

"She's a masterful woman, I tell ye! She thinks Deacon Scraper is a
dangerous man, and there aint nobody here but what'll agree with her
that far. Then--he--he's got a mortgage on my farm, same as he has on
others,--plenty of others as is better clothed with means than ever I've
been; and, all about it, my wife aint willing for us to make an enemy of
the old man. That's where the land lays, and you can see for yourself.
Plenty in the village is fixed the same way; he's got power, that old
grape-skin has, power over better men than he. We don't want to see that
child put upon, but we aint no blood to him, and there aint anybody but
feels that he himself aint just the one to interfere. That's the way my
wife feels, and I,--well, there now! you're a stranger, and I may never
set eyes on you again; but I take to you, somehow, and I don't mind
telling you that I feel as mean as dirt whenever I think of that lamb in
that old fox's den; mean as dirt I feel, and yet I aint got the spunk
to--the strenth is gone out of my legs," he added, piteously, "these ten
years back, and I think some of my sperrit went with it. That's where
it is! I haint got the sperrit to stand up against 'em."

There was a long silence, and then the Skipper shut his knife with a
click, and rose from the table, holding out his hand.

"You are a good man, Señor Pike," he said. "I think no worse of you, and
am glad to make the acquaintance. With regard to this child, I shall
remind you,"--here he shook his head with a backward gesture in which
there was something at once proud and humble.--"I shall remind you that
there are powers very high, more high than of prophets; and that God
will do the works as seems Him good. I may have the honour to wait upon
your distinguished lady at a future day; I think to be some days in this
place, for purposes of selling my cargo, as well to take in wood and
water. Never before in these parts, it is for me of interest to observe
the place and people. You will take a lemonade that Franci brings? Hola,
Franci! This is Señor Pike, Franci, at all times to be admitted to the
schooner."

"Pleased to meet you!" said Mr. Bill Hen.

"Servicio de Usted!" said Franci, who did not understand English except
when he thought the speaker was likely to interest him; and they sat
down to the lemonade.



CHAPTER VII.

THE CAPTIVE.


"Franci!" the Skipper called up the companion-way, when his visitor had
taken his departure.

"Señor!" said Franci, putting his beautiful head over the rail.

"Bring me here the child, hear thou!"

"Si, Señor," said Franci. He went forward, and pulling aside a pile of
canvas that lay carelessly heaped together in a corner of the deck,
disclosed the boy John, curled up in a ball, with one monkey in his
arms, and the other sitting on his shoulder.

"Here, you, Sir Schoolmaster, the Patron ask for you. I give you my hand
to hellup you up! I like to put a knife in you!" he added in Spanish,
with an adorable smile.

"You'd get one into yourself before you had time!" said Rento, getting
up from the spot where his length had been coiled, and speaking with a
slow drawl that lent emphasis to the words. "You ever lay a hand on that
boy, and it's the last you lay on anybody,--understand that?"

"Oh, yays!" said Franci, gently, as he pulled John out of the tangle of
canvas and ropes. "But I am 'most killed all my life with looking at
your ugly face, you old she monkey! A little more killing make not much
difference to me."

Rento advanced toward him with uplifted hand, and the agile Spaniard
slipped round the mast and disappeared.

"What was he saying?" asked John, vaguely feeling that something was
wrong.

"Nothin', nothin' at all," Rento said, quietly. "He was givin' me some
talk, that was all. It's all he has to give, seemin'ly; kind o' fool
person he is, Franci; don't ye take no heed what he says. There, go
'long, youngster! the Skipper's lookin' for ye."

At this moment the Skipper's head appeared over the rail, and John
became quite sure that he was awake. Dreams were so curious, sometimes,
one never knew what would happen in them; and this whole matter of
piracy had been so strange and unlooked for that all the while he had
been hidden under the sail (where he had retreated by the Skipper's
orders as soon as Mr. Bill Hen Pike appeared in the offing), he had been
trying to persuade himself that he was asleep, and that the monkeys were
dream-monkeys, very lively ones, and that by-and-by he would wake up
once more and find himself in bed at Mr. Scraper's.

But now there could be no more doubt! He could not dream Franci, nor the
queer things he said; he could not dream Rento, with his kind, ugly face
and drawling speech; least of all could he dream the Skipper, who was
now looking at him with an amused smile.

Certainly, he did not look in the least like a pirate! In the first
place, Malay pirates did not wear anything, except a kind of short
petticoat, and something that flew in the air behind them as they ran.
For in the geography-book pictures a Malay was always running amuck,
with a creese in his hand, and an expression of frantic rage on his
countenance. How _could_ this be a Malay? Perhaps he might have been in
fun! But John was not much used to fun, and it seemed hardly likely that
so grave a person as the Skipper would play at pirate. On the whole, the
little boy was sadly puzzled; and the Skipper's first words did not tend
to allay his anxiety.

"Ha! my prisoner!" he said. "That you come here, sir, and sit down by me
on the rail. The evening falls, and we will sit here and observe the
fairness of the night. Remark that I put no chains on you, Colorado, as
in the Malay seas we put them! You can swim, yes?"

John nodded. "I swam across the river last week," said he. "I was going
to--" He meant to say, "to rescue some people from pirates," but now
this did not seem polite; so he stopped short, but the Skipper took no
notice.

"You swim? That is good!" he said. "But Sir Scraper, he cannot swim, I
think, my son, so for you there is no rescue, since Rento has pulled in
the plank. Are you content, then, to be the captive of the 'Nautilus?'"

John looked up, still sorely puzzled; perhaps he was rather dull, this
little boy John, about some things, though he was good at his books. At
any rate, there could be no possible doubt of the kindness in the
Skipper's face; perhaps he was in fun, after all; and, anyhow, where
had he ever been so happy as here since the good mother died? So he
answered with right good-will,--

"I like to stay here more than anywhere else in the world. If--if I
didn't think Mr. Scraper would be angry and frightened about me, and not
know where I was, I should like to stay on board all my life."

"That is right!" said the Skipper, heartily. "That is the prisoner that
I like to have. I am not a cruel pirate, as some; I like to make happy
my captives. Franci, lemonade, on the after-deck here!" He spoke in
Spanish, and Franci replied in the same language, with a faint voice
expressive of acute suffering.

"I am very sick, Patron. I go to my bed in a desolated condition."

"Come here, and let me look at you!" said the Skipper, imperatively.

"Am I a dog, to fetch drink for this beggar brat?" was Franci's next
remark, in a more vigorous tone. "Was it for this that I left San Mateo?
Rento is a pig, let him do the pig things. I go to my bed."

He made a motion to go, but the Skipper reached out a long arm, and the
next moment the bold youth was dangling over the side of the vessel,
clutching at the air, and crying aloud to all the saints in the
calendar.

"Shall I let go?" asked the Skipper, in his quiet tone.

"Ah! no, distinguished Patron!" cried Franci. "Let me not go! This water
is abominable. Release me, and I will get the lemonade. It is my wish
that you may both be drowned in it, but I will get it,--oh, yes,
assuredly!"

He was set down, and vanished into the cabin; the Skipper, as if this
were the most ordinary occurrence in the world, led the way to the
after-rail, and seated himself, motioning to John to take a place beside
him.

"What is the matter with him?" asked the boy, looking after Franci.

"I think him slightly a fool," was the reply, as the Skipper puffed
leisurely at his cigar. "His parents, worthy people, desired him to be a
sailor, but that he can never be. The best sailor is one born for that,
and for no other thing; also, a sailor can be made, though not of so
fine quality; but of Franci, no. I return him after this voyage, with
compliments, and he sails no more in the 'Nautilus.' And you, Colorado?
How is it with you? You love not at all a vessel, I think?"

There certainly could be no doubt this time that the Skipper was making
fun; his face was alive with it, and John could have laughed outright
for pleasure.

"I don't believe you are a Malay, one bit!" said the child. "I'm not
sure that you are a pirate at all, but I know you aren't a Malay."

"Why that, my son?" asked the Skipper, waving the smoke aside, that he
might see the child's face the clearer. "Why do you think that? I am not
dark enough for a Malay, is it that?"

"No, not that," John admitted. "But--well, you have no creese, and you
are not wild, nor--nor fierce, nor cruel."

"But I have the creese!" the Skipper protested. "The creese, would you
see it? It is in the cabin, behind the door, with other arms of piracy.
Still, Colorado, it is of a fact that I was not born in Polynesia, no.
As to the fierceness and the cruelty, we shall see, my son, we shall
see. If I kept you here on the 'Nautilus' always, took you with me away,
suffered you no more to live with your gentle Sir Scraper, that would be
cruelty, do you think it? That would be a fierce pirate, and a cruel
one, who would do that?"

John raised his head, and looked long and earnestly in his friend's
face. "Of course, I know you are only in fun," he said, at last,
"because dreams don't really come true; but--but that _was_ my dream,
you know! I think I've dreamed you all my life. At least--well, I never
knew just what you looked like, or how you would come; but I always
dreamed that some one would come from the sea, and that I should hear
about the shells, and know what they were saying when they talk; and--"
he paused; but the Skipper patted his shoulder gently, in sign that he
understood.

"And--what else, Juan Colorado?" he asked, in what seemed the kindest
voice in the world. But the boy John hung his head, and seemed loth to
go on.

"There--there was another part to what I dreamed," he said at last. "I
guess I won't tell that, please, 'cause, of course, you were only in
fun."

"And what the harm to tell it," said the Skipper, lightly, "even if it
come not true? Dreams are pretty things; my faith, I love to dream mine
self. Tell thy friend, Colorado! tell the dream, all the wholeness of
it."

There was no resisting the deep, sweet voice. The little boy raised his
head again, and looked frankly into the kind, dark eyes.

"I used to dream that I was taken away!" he said, in a low voice.

"Away? Good!" the Skipper repeated.

"Away," the boy murmured, and his voice grew soft and dreamy. "Away from
the land, and the fields where the grass dries up so soon, and winter
comes before you are ready to be cold. Some one would come and take me
in a ship, and I should live always on the water, and it would rock me
like a cradle, and I should feel as if I had always lived there. And I
should see the flying-fish and dolphins, and know how the corals grow,
and see things under the sea. And nobody would beat me then, and I
should not have to split wood when it makes my back ache. That was the
other part of my dream."

The Skipper laid his hand lightly on the child's head and smoothed back
the red curls. "Who knows?" he said, with a smile. "Who knows what may
come of dreams, Colorado? Here the one-half is come true, already at
this time. Why not the other?" He turned away as if to change the
subject, and took up a piece of the white branching coral that lay at
his elbow. "When I gather this," he said in a lighter tone, "it was a
day in the last year; I remember well that day! A storm had been, and
still the sea was rough a little, but that was of no matter. Along the
island shore we were cruising, and I saw through the water, there very
clear, fine trees."

"Trees?" repeated the wondering child.

"Of coral, naturally!" said the Skipper. "Coral trees, Juan, shining
bright, bright, through the green water.

"'Hola, you! lower anchor!'

"It is done. I put on the diving dress. I take a rope about my waist, I
descend. There a forest I find; very beautiful thing to see. Here we see
green trees, and in your north, in fall of year, bright colours, but
there colours of rainbow all the year round. In one place bright yellow,
branch and twig of gold purely; the next, purple of a king's garment,
colour of roses, colour of peach-blossom in the spring. Past me, as I
descend, float fans of the fan-coral, lilac, spreading a vine-work,
trellis, as your word is. On the one side are cliffs of mountains, with
caves in their sides, and from these caves I see come out many
creatures; the band-fish, a long ribbon of silver with rose shining
through; the Isabelle fish, it is violet and green and gold, like a
queen. Under my feet, see, Colorado! sand white like the snow of your
winter, fine, shining with many bright sparks. And this is a garden; for
all on every hand flowers are growing. You have seen a cactus, that some
lady keeps very careful in her window, tending that it die not? Yes!
Here is the white ground covered with these flowers completely, only of
more size hugely, crimson, pale, the heart of a rose, the heart of a
young maiden. Sea-anemones are these, Colorado, many, many kinds, all
very fine to see. And here, too, on the ground are my shells, not as
here, when of their brightness the half is gone for want of the life
and the water, but full of gleams very glorious, telling of greatness in
their making. Here above the water, my little child, I find persons many
who doubt of a great God who maketh all things for good, and to grow in
the end better; but to have been under the sea, that is to know that it
cannot be otherwise; a true sailor learns many things that are not fully
known upon the land, where one sees not so largely His mercy."

He was silent for a moment, and then went on, the child sitting rapt,
gazing at him with eyes which saw all the wonders of which he told.

"All these things I saw through the clear water, as if through purest
glass I looked. I broke the branches, which now you see white and
cleaned, but then all splendid with these colours whereof I tell you.
Many branches I broke, putting them in pouches about my waist and
shoulders. At once, I see a waving in the water, over my head; I look up
to see a shark swim slowly round and round, just having seen me, and
making his preparations. I have my knife ready, for often have I met
this gentleman before. I slip behind the coral tree, and wait; but he is
a stupid beast, the shark, and knows not what to do when I come not out.
So up I quickly climb through the branches, with care not to tangle the
rope; he still looking for me at the spot where first he saw me. I gain
the top, and with a few pulls of my good Rento on the rope, I am in the
boat, and Sir Shark is snapping his teeth alone, very hungry, but not
invited to dinner."

"Do you think he was stronger than you?" asked the little boy. "You're
very strong, aren't you? I should think you were as strong as sharks,
and 'most as strong as whales."

The Skipper laughed. "Sir Shark is ten times so strong as any man, let
him be of the best, my friend; but he has not the strength of head, you
understand; that makes the difference. And you, could you do that, too?
Could you keep yourself from fear, when the sea-creatures come about
you, if you should ever be a sailor? What think you?"

The child pondered.

"I think I could!" he said at last.

"I never saw any such things, of course, but I'm not afraid of anything
that I know about, here on shore. There was a snake," he went on,
lowering his voice, "last summer there was a snake that lived in a hole
by the school-house, and he was a poison snake, an adder. One day he
crept out of his hole and came into the school-house, and scared them
all 'most to death. The teacher fainted away, and all the children got
up into a corner on the table, and the snake had the whole floor to
himself. But it looked funny to see them all that way over a little
beast that wasn't more than two foot long; so I thought about it, and
then I went to the wood-box (we were burning brushwood then) and got a
stick with a little fork at the end, and I came up quick behind the
snake, and clapped that down over his neck, so he couldn't turn his head
round, and then I took another stick and killed him. That's only a
little thing, but I wasn't afraid at all, and I thought perhaps it would
show whether I would be good for anything when there were real things
to be afraid of."

The Skipper nodded in his pleasant, understanding way. "I think so, too,
Colorado," he said. "I think so, too! That was like my boy Rento, but
not like Franci. Franci dies every time he see a snake, and come to life
only to find out if somebody else is killed. See, my son, how beautiful
the moon on the water! Let us look for a few moments, to take the beauty
into us, and then I must send my little friend to his bed, that nothing
harmful comes to him."

So they sat hand in hand for awhile, gazing their fill, saying nothing;
there was the same look in the two faces, so widely different. The
little boy, with his clear brow, his blue eyes limpid as a mountain
pool, shining with the heavens reflected in them; the dark Spaniard (if
he were a Spaniard!) with lines of sadness, shadows of thought and of
bitter experience, making his bronze face still darker; what was there
alike in these two, who had come together from the ends of the earth?
The thought was one, in both hearts, and the look of it shone in the
eyes of both as they sat in the moonlight white and clear. What was the
thought? Look into the face of your child as it kneels to pray at close
of day! Look into the face of any good and true man when he is lifted
above the things of to-day, and sees the beauty and the mystery, and
hears the eternal voices sounding!

  "'Morning, evening, noon and night,
  Praise God!' sang Theocrite."



CHAPTER VIII.

IN THE NIGHT.

The evening had been peaceful, all beauty and silence; but not so the
night for the boy John. Something was the matter; he could not sleep.
The bunk in the little cabin was comfortable enough for anyone, but to
him it was a couch for an emperor. He speculated on the probability of
George the Third's having had anything like so luxurious a bed, and
rejected the thought as absurd. There were no lumps in the mattress,
neither any holes through which sharp fingers of straw came out and
scratched him. The red curtains at the sides could be drawn at will,
and, drawing them, he found himself in a little world of his own, warm
and still and red. The shells were outside in the other world; he could
look out at any moment and see them, and touch them, take them up; his
friend had said so. Now, however, it seemed best just to be alive, and
to stay still and wonder what would become of him. He heard the Skipper
come down and go to bed, and soon the sound of deep, regular breathing
told that he slept, the man of wonder; but John could not sleep. And now
other thoughts came thronging into his mind, thoughts that were not soft
and crimson and luxurious. To go away, as the Skipper had said,--to go
to heaven! But one did not go to heaven till the time came. Was it
right? Was the Skipper a good man?

The child debated the question with anguish, lying with wide open eyes
in his crimson-shaded nest. Mr. Scraper was--not--very nice, perhaps;
but he had taken him, John, when his mother died, and fed and clothed
him. He had often had enough to eat--almost enough--and--and Mr. Scraper
was old, and perhaps pretty soon his legs would go to sleep, like old
Captain Baker's, and he would not be able to walk at all, and then how
would it be if he were left alone? Perhaps people would not come to help
him, as they had helped the captain, because everybody in the village
loved the captain, and no one exactly loved Mr. Scraper. So if the only
person who belonged to him at all should go off and leave him, how could
it be expected that the folks who had their own grandfathers and things
to take care of would stop and go to take care of this old man? And if
he should die there, all alone, with no one to read to him or bring him
things, or feed him with a spoon, why,--how would it seem to himself,
the boy John's self, when he should hear of it?

"I am a murderer!" he said aloud; and straightway, at the sound of his
own voice, cowered under the bedclothes, and felt the hangman's hand at
his neck.

What did it mean, when a person could not sleep?

There was a man in an old book there at the house, and he was wicked,
and he never could sleep, never at all. The things he had done came and
sat on him, and they were hot, like coals, and the heat went through to
his heart and burned it. Would it be so with him, if he should go away
in the "Nautilus," and forget--or try to forget--the old man who had
nobody to love him? Not that Mr. Scraper wanted to be loved yet, at all;
but--but he might, some time, when his legs had gone to sleep, and
then--

Sometimes, when a person could not sleep, it meant that he was going to
die. Suppose one were to die now, and go to heaven, and they said to
one, "How was Mr. Scraper when you came away?" and one had to say, "I
ran away and left him this evening, and I don't know how he is, or
whether he is alive or dead--for sometimes old people die just like
that, dropping down in their chairs--what would they say to one? Perhaps
the old man had dropped down now, this very night, from anger at his
being away when he should have done the chores". He saw Mr. Scraper
sitting in his arm-chair, cold and dead, with the rats running over the
floor at his feet, because he, John, had not set the trap. A scream rose
to his lips, but he choked it back; and sitting up in desperation, drew
aside the red curtains and looked out.

The cabin lay dim and quiet before him. A lantern hung in the middle,
turned low, and by its light he could see the shelves, with their
shining rows of shells, and the glass counter with the sea-jewelry.
Directly opposite him, only the narrow space of the cabin between, lay
the Skipper in his bunk, sleeping peacefully. The wild fear died away in
the child's heart as he saw the calmness and repose of the stalwart
figure. One arm was thrown out; the strong, shapely hand lay with the
palm open toward him, and there was infinite cheer and hospitality in
the attitude. In the dim light the Skipper's features looked less firm
and more kind; yet they were always kind. It was not possible that this
was a bad man, a stealer of children, a pilferer of old men's cupboards.

If one could think that he had been playing all the time, making
believe, just as a person did one's self; but John had never known any
grown people who could make believe; they had either forgotten, or else
they were ashamed of the knowledge. Once, it was true, he had persuaded
Mr. Bill Hen Pike to be Plymouth Rock, when he wanted to land in the
"Mayflower;" but just as the landing was about to be effected, Mrs. Pike
had called wrathfully from the house, and the rock sprang up and
shambled off without even a word of apology or excuse. So grown people
did not understand these things, probably; and yet,--yet if it had been
play, what glorious times one could have, with a real creese, and a real
schooner, and everything delightful in the world!

How could he be bad and look like that? The child bent forward and
strained his eyes on the sleeping face. So quiet, so strong, so gentle!
He tried putting other faces beside it, for he saw faces well, this boy,
and remembered what he had seen. He tried Mr. Scraper's face, with the
ugly blink to the red eyes, and the two wrinkles between the eyes, and
the little nest of spiteful ones that came about his mouth when he was
going to be angry; even when he slept--the old gentleman--his hands were
clenched tight--how different from that open palm, with its silent
welcome!--and his lips pursed up tight. No! no! that was not a pleasant
picture! Well, there was Lena! she was pleasant to look at, surely! Her
hair was like silver, and her eyes blue and soft, though they could be
sharp, too. But, somehow, when her face was brought here beside the
Skipper's, it looked foolish and empty, and her pretty smile had nothing
to say except to bid one look and see how pretty she was, and how
becoming blue was to her; and--and, altogether, she would not do at all.

Mr. Bill Hen, then, who was always kind to him, and quite often, when.
Mrs. Pike was not near, would give him a checkerberry lozenge. Mr. Bill
Hen's face was good-natured, to be sure, but oh, how coarse and red and
stupid it was beside the fine dark sleeping mask! Why did people look so
different, and more when they were asleep than any other time? Did one's
soul come out and kind of play about, and light up the person's face;
and if so, was it not evident that the Skipper _was_ a good man? and
that perhaps things were really different in his country, and they had
other kinds of Ten Commandments, and--no, but right was right, and it
didn't make any difference about countries in that sort of thing. You
knew that yourself, because you felt it in your stomach when you did bad
things; perhaps when one grew older, one's stomach did not feel so
quickly. And, anyhow, if that was true about the soul, how do you
suppose a person's own soul would make his face look if he was running
away from the things he ought to do, and going to play with monkeys and
see the wonders of the world? The boy wondered what he was looking like
at the present moment, and summoned up the image of a frightful picture
of a devil in another of those old books into which he was forever
peeping at odd times. Did they miss him now, the old books in the
garret, because he had not come up to wish them good-night and take a
look at some of the best pictures before he went to bed? Was he likely
to turn into a devil when he died, do you suppose?

How still it was, and how queer his eyes felt! But he could not lie
down, for then he would be alone again, and the things would come and
sit on him; it was good to sit up and look at the Skipper, and
wonder--and wonder--

A gleam, faint and red, shot from a shell in the farther corner,--a
splendid creature, scarlet and pale green, with horns that gave it a
singularly knowing look. He almost thought it nodded to him; and hark!
was that a tiny voice speaking, calling him by name?

"Come away, little boy!" said the voice. "Come away to the south, where
the water is blue always, and storms come rarely, rarely! There, under
the water, my brothers and sisters wait to see you, and with them their
friends, the lovely ones, of whom you have dreamed all your life. There,
on beds of sea-moss, they lie, and the rainbow is dull beside them.
Flowers are there, and stars, and bells that wave softly without sound.
For one fair thing that the man, our master, told you of, we have a
thousand to show you. What does he know, a man, whose eyes are already
half-shut? But you are a child, and for you all things shall be opened
under the ocean, and you shall see the treasures of it, and the
wonders; and you shall grow wise, wise, so that men shall look up to
you, and shall say, 'Where did he gain his knowledge?' And your friend
shall be with you, oh yes, for he knows the way, if he cannot see all
the things that will meet your eyes! And you and he together shall
sail--shall sail, through waters green as chrysoprase; and all the
sea-creatures shall learn to know you and love you. You shall learn
where the sea-otter makes his nest, in the leaves of the giant sea-weed,
where they stretch along the water, full sixty feet long, as the Skipper
told you. The 'Nautilus' will be there, too: not a clumsy wooden
mountain, like this in which we lie prisoned, but the creature itself,
the fairy thing of pearl and silver! Look! here lies his shell, and you
find it lovely; but like us, it is dim and dead for want of the life
within it.

"Come away, and let us be sailing, sailing over seas of gold! And when
you are weary of the top of the waves, down you shall sink with us
through the clear green water, and the night will fall like a soft
dream, and the moon-fish, with its disk of silver, shall gleam beside
you to light the dimness that yet is never dark; and you shall go down,
down, down--"

And about this time it must have been that the little boy went down, for
when the morning broke, the Skipper found him, fast asleep, and smiling
as he slept.



CHAPTER IX.

FAMILY MATTERS.


"Well," said Mr. Bill Hen, "I only want to put it to you, you
understand. Intelligent man like you, no need for me to do more than put
it to you. There's the child, and there's the old man, and they 'pear to
have got separated. I don't want to be understood as implying anything,
not anything in the living world; but there's where it is, you see. And
me being a justice of the peace, and sworn, you observe, to--well, I'm
sure you will see for yourself the position I'm placed in. Point is, you
seemed consid'able interested in the child, as one may say. Nothing
strange in that,--nice little boy! would interest an Injin chief, if he
had any human feelin' in him. But _bein'_ a justice of the peace, you
see,--well, Mr. Scraper has sent me to make inquiries, and no offence in
the world, I trust--no _insult_, you understand, if I jest--well, all
about it--do you know where in thunder the child is?"

Mr. Bill Hen, standing on the bank, delivered himself of these remarks
with infinite confusion, perspiring freely, and wiping his face with a
duster, which he had brought by mistake instead of a handkerchief. He
looked piteously at the Skipper, who stood leaning over the side,
cheerfully inscrutable, clad in spotless white, and smoking a long
cigar.

"The child?" the Skipper repeated, thoughtfully. "You allude to the boy
called John, Señor Pike; yes, I had that suppose. Now, sir, the day
before this, you tell me that this child is not well placed by that old
gentleman Scraper; that the old man is cruel, is base, is a
skin-the-flint, shortly. You tell me this, and I make reply to you that
there are powers more high than this old person, who have of that child
charge. How, if those powers had delivered to me the child? how then, I
ask you, Señor Pike?"

Mr. Bill Hen wiped his brow again and gasped feebly. "'Tis as I
thought!" he said. "You've got the child aboard."

The Skipper nodded, and blew rings from his cigar. "I have the child,"
he repeated, "aboard. What will you in this case do, Señor? I propose to
take him with me away, to make of him a sailor, to care for him as my
son. You think well of this; you have been kind to the child always, as
he tell me? You are glad to have him remove from the slavery of this old
fish, yes?" He smiled, and bent his dark eyes on his unhappy visitor.

Mr. Bill Hen writhed upon the hook. "There--there's truth in what you
say," he admitted, at length, after seeking counsel in vain from his red
bandanna. "There's truth in what you say, I aint denyin' that. But what
I look at, you see, is my duty. You may have your idees of duty, and I
may have mine; and I'm a justice of the peace, and I don't see anything
for it but to ask you to give up that child to his lawful guardeen, as
has sent me for him."

A pause ensued, during which Franci sauntered to the side with easy
grace. "Shall I put a knife into him, Patron?" he asked, indicating Mr.
Bill Hen with a careless nod. "How well he would stick, eh? The fatness
of his person! It is but to say the word, Patron."

Mr. Bill Hen recoiled with a look of horror, and prepared for instant
flight; but the Skipper's gesture reassured him. "Franci, look if there
is a whale on the larboard bow!" said the latter.

"Perfectly, Patron!" replied Franci, withdrawing with his most courtly
bow. "When I say that no one will be killed at all in this cursed place,
and I shall break my heart! but as you will."

Again there was a pause, while Mr. Bill Hen wondered if this were a
floating lunatic asylum or a nest of pirates, that had come so easily up
their quiet river and turned the world topsy-turvy. At length--"Your
force, Señor Pike," the Skipper said, "I perceive it not, for to take
away this child. Have you the milizia--what you call soldiers,
police--have you them summoned and concealed behind the rocks, as in the
theatres of Havana? I see no one but your one self. Surely you have no
thought to take the child of your own force from me?"

Mr. Bill Hen gasped again. "Look here!" he broke out at last. "What kind
of man are you, anyway? you aint no kind that we're used to in these
parts, so now I tell you! When a man hears what is law in this part of
the world, he gives in, as is right and proper, to that law and
that--and--and in short to them sentiments. Are you going to stand out
against the law, and keep that child? and who give you a right to do for
that child? I suppose I can ask that question, if you are a grandee, or
whatever you are. Who give you a right, I ask?"

"Who shall say?" replied the Skipper. "Perhaps--" He said no more, but
raised his hand with a gesture that was solemn enough; and Mr. Bill Hen
Pike decided that he was beyond doubt a madman. But now the Skipper
dropped his tone and attitude of smiling ease, and, throwing away his
cigar, stood upright. "Enough, Señor!" he said. "You are a good man, but
you have not the courage. Now, you shall see Colorado." He turned toward
the cabin and called: "Colorado, my son, come to me!" Then, after a
pause, "He sleeps yet. Rento, bring to me the child!" Rento, who had
been hovering near, lending a careful ear to all that was said, now
vanished, and reappeared, bearing the boy John in his arms. The child
was but newly awake, and was still rubbing his eyes and looking about
him in bewilderment.

"Colorado, the Señor Pike, already well known to you!" said the Skipper,
with a graceful wave of the hand. "Your guardian, the old gentleman
Scraper, desires of our company at breakfast. How then, son of mine?
Shall we go, or shall I keep you here, and bid Sir Scraper find his way
to the devil, which will be for him little difficult?" He smiled on the
boy, and took his hand with a caressing gesture.

Little John heaved a great sigh, and the cares of the world floated
from him like a summer cloud. "Oh, I knew it!" he cried, smiling
joyously up into his friend's face. "I knew it all the time, or almost
all! You never meant anything but fun, did you? and we will go back,
won't we? And we shall feel all right inside, and things will not
sit--I--I mean nothing will feel bad any more. I--I can't say all I
mean," he added, rather lamely, "because I had thoughts in the night;
but we will go now, you and I, you and I!"

       *       *       *       *       *

As they approached the gate, John stopped a moment, and looked up at his
companion. "Would you mind holding my hand?" he asked. "I am all right
in my mind, but I think I am rather queer in my legs; I think I should
feel better if I held the hand of--of somebody who wasn't little, or--or
weak."

Oh, the strong, cordial pressure of the big, brown hand! how it sent
warmth and cheer and courage through the little quivering frame! John
was all right in his mind, as he said, but his body felt already the
stinging blows of the cane, his ears rang already with the burning words
of rage and spite.

"But it is the inside that matters!" said John, aloud; and he shut his
eyes and went into the house.

"Good-morning, gentleman," the Skipper began, always at his courteous
ease.

"I have to ask your forgiveness, that I carry off yesterday our young
friend here. You were not at house, I desired greatly of his company; I
have the ways of the sea, waiting not too long for the things I like;
briefly, I take him away. That I bear the blame of this is my desire.
And now, shall we pleasantly converse, ha?"

He seated himself, drew the boy between his knees, and looked Mr.
Scraper squarely in the eyes. Now, Mr. Scraper did not like to be looked
at in this manner; he shifted on his chair, and his mouth, which had
been opened to pour out a flood of angry speech, closed with a spiteful
snap, and then opened, and then closed again.

The Skipper observed these fish-like snappings with grave attention. At
length,--

"Who are you, I should like to know?" the old man cried in an angry
twitter.

"Why in--why do you come meddling here, and carrying off boys from their
lawful guardeens, and talking folderol, and raising Ned generally? I've
seen skippers before, but I never heered of no such actions as these,
never in my days! Why, no one here so much as knows your name; and here
you seem to own the hull village, all of a sudden. You, John," he added,
with a savage snarl, "you go about your business, and I'll see to you
afterwards. I reckon you won't go out again without leave for one
while!"

The child started obediently, but the strong hand held him fast.

"Quiet, Colorado," said the Skipper. "Quiet, my son! Time enough for the
work, plenty time! I desire you here now, see you." Then he turned once
more to the old man.

"You have, I already say, a beautiful name, Sir Scraper," he said with
cheerful interest. "Endymion! a fine name, truly--of poetry, of
moonlight and beauty; you have had great joy of that name, I cannot
doubt?"

"What's my name to you, I should like to know?" retorted Mr. Scraper,
with acrimony. "This aint the first time you've took up my name, and
I'll thank you to leave it alone! You let go that boy, or I'll let you
know more 'n you knew before."

"Perfectly!" said the Skipper. "Attend but a moment, dear sir. Let us
pursue for a moment thoughts of poetry! Such a name as Endymion proves a
poetic fancy in the giver of it; at a guess, this was your lady mother,
now probably with the saints, and if others so fortunate as to belong to
your family, surely this excellent lady would have given to them, also,
names of soul, of poetry! If there was a sister, for example, would she
be named Susan? No! Jane? Never! Find me then a name! Come! at a
venture. Zenobia? Aha! what say you?"

He leaned forward, and his glance was like the flash of a sword. The
child looked in wonder from one to the other; for the old man had sunk
back in his chair, and his jaw had fallen open in an ugly way, and
altogether he was a sad object to look at.

"What--what d'ye mean?" he gasped, after a moment. But the Skipper went
on, speaking lightly and cheerfully, as if talking of the weather.

"What pleasure to bring before the mind a picture of a family so
charming! Of you, dear sir, in your gracious childhood, how endearing
the image! how tenderly guarded, how fondly cherished here by your side
the little sister? Ah! the smiling picture, making glad the heart! This
sister, Zenobia, let us say, grows up, after what happy childhood with
such a brother needs for me not to say. They are three, these
children,--how must they love each other! But one brother goes early
away from the home! In time comes for Zenobia, as to young maidens will
come, a suitor, a foreigner, shall we say? a man, like myself, of the
sea? May it not have been possible, dear sir?"

"A roving nobody!" the old man muttered, striving to pull himself
together. "A rascally"--but here he stopped abruptly, for a stern hand
was laid on his arm.

"I am speaking at this present, sir!" said the Skipper. "Of this man I
do not ask you the character. I tell my story, if you please, in my own
way.

"The mother, by this time, is dead. The father, unwilling to part with
his daughter,--alas! the parental heart, how must it be torn? As yours,
the tender one, last night, on missing this beloved child, Sir Scraper.
The father, I say, opposes the marriage; at length only, and after many
tears, much sorrow, some anger, consents; the daughter, sister, Zenobia,
goes with her husband away, promising quickly to return, to take her old
father to her home in the southern islands. Ah, the interesting tale, is
it not? Observe, Colorado, my son, how I am able to move this, your dear
guardian. The pleasant thing, to move the mind of age, so often
indifferent.

"Zenobia goes away, and the son, the good son, the one faithful and
devoted, who will not marry, so great his love for his parent, is left
with that parent alone. How happy can we fancy that parent, is it not?
How gay for him the days, how sweet for him the nights, lighted with
love, and smoothed his pillow by loving hands,--ah, the pleasant
picture! But how, my friend, you feel yourself not well? Colorado, a
glass of water for your guardian."

The old man motioned the child back, his little eyes gleaming with rage
and fear.

"You--you come a-nigh me, you brat, and I'll wring your neck!" he
gasped. "Well, Mister, have you finished your--your story, as you call
it? Why do I want to listen to your pack of lies, I should like to know?
I wonder I've had patience to let you go on so long."

"Why do you want to listen?" the Skipper repeated. "My faith, do I know?
But the appearance of interest in your face so venerable, it touch me to
the heart. Shall I go and tell the rest of my story to him there, that
other, the justice of the peace? But no, it would break your heart to
hear not the end. That we proceed then, though not so cheerful the
ending of my story. Zenobia, in her southern home, happy, with her child
at her knee, feels still in her heart the desire to see once more her
father, to bring him to her, here in the warm south to end his days of
age. She writes, but no answer comes; again she writes, and again, grief
in her soul, to think that anger is between her and one so dear. At
last, after a long time, a letter from her brother, the stay-at-home,
the faithful one; their father is dead; is dead,--without speaking of
her; the property is to him left, the faithful son. It is finished, it
is concluded, the earth is shut down over the old man, and no more is to
say.

"With what tender, what loving words this cruel news tells itself, needs
not to repeat to a person so of feeling as yourself, Sir Scraper.
Zenobia, sad woman, believes what she is told; bows her head, gathers to
her closer her husband and her son, and waits the good time when God
shall make to her good old father the clear knowledge that she has
always loved him. Ah, yes, my faith!

"Now, in a year, two years, I know not, what arrives? A letter, old and
worn; a letter soiled, discoloured, of carrying long in a sailor's
pocket, but still easily to be read. This letter--shall we guess, Sir
Scraper? Well, then, from her father! The old man in secret, in fear,
lying on his bed of death, makes come by stealth a neighbour, kindly
disposed to him; makes write by his hand this letter; makes draw up
besides, it may be, other papers, what do we know?

"Ah! but remain quiet, dear sir. Grieved that I do not interest you, I
must still pray of your presence, that you do not yet withdraw it.
Ancient fish-skin, do I tie thee in thy chair?

"So! that is well, and you will remain quiet, Señor, with a thousand
pardons!

"This letter, then, it is one to wring the heart. He has longed for his
daughter, this poor old man; in two grasping hands held as in a vise, he
turns to her who was always kind, he prays her to return, to let him
come to her, what she will. Failing this, and knowing that on earth the
time is short for him to remain, he bids her not grieve, but send to her
home a messenger of trust, and let him look for a certain paper, in a
certain place. Finally, he prays for her the blessing of God, this good
old man, and bids her farewell, if he may never see her more. Truly, a
letter over which a pirate, even a Malay pirate, Colorado of my heart,
might shed tears."

The Skipper's voice was still quiet, but its deep tones were stern with
suppressed feeling; with menace, was it? The child, bewildered, looked
from one to the other of his two companions. The Spaniard's eyes burned
red in their depths, his glance seemed to pierce marrow and sinew; he
sat leaning lightly forward in his chair, alert, possessing himself,
ready for any sudden movement on the part of his adversary; for the old
man must be his adversary; something deadly must lie between these two.
Mr. Scraper lay back in his chair like one half dead, yet the rage and
spite and hatred, the baffled wonder, the incredulity struggling with
what was being forced upon him, made lively play in his sunken face. His
lean hands clutched the arms of the chair as if they would rend the
wood; his frame shook with a palsy. Little John wondered what could ail
his guardian; yet his own heart was stirred to its depths by what he had
heard.

"The son was bad!" he cried. "He was a bad man! Things must have sat
upon his breast _all_ night, and I am sure he could not sleep at all.
Are you sorry for a person who is as bad as that? do you think any one
tried to help him to be better?"

But the Skipper raised his finger, and pointed to the evil face of the
old man.

"Does that man look as if he slept, my son?" he asked.

"Listen always, and you shall hear the last of the story."

"It's a lie!" Mr. Scraper screamed at last, recovering the power of
speech.

"It's a lie that you've cooked up from what you have heard from the
neighbours. May their tongues rot out! And if it were true as the sun,
what is it to you? She's dead, I tell you! She's been dead these twenty
years! I had the papers telling of her death; I've got 'em now, you
fool."

"Quiet then, my uncle!" said the Skipper, bending forward, and laying
his hand on the old man's knee.

"She is dead, she died in these arms. I am her son, do you see?"

But if Mr. Scraper saw, it was only for a moment, for he gave a scream,
and fell together sideways in his chair, struck with a fit.



CHAPTER X.

IN THE VALLEY OF DECISION.


"And now, Colorado, son of my heart," the Skipper said, "you understand
why I was a thief that yesterday, and why I could not permit you at that
instant to tell of my thieving?"

They had put the old man to bed, and Mr. Bill Hen had gone for the
doctor. In fact, when John ran out of the door, he had found Mr. Bill
Hen leaning up against it, as speechless, with amazement and confusion,
as Mr. Scraper himself! The good man, wholly unable to restrain his
curiosity, had followed the Skipper and the boy, unbeknown to them, and
posting himself in a convenient angle of the porch, had heard every word
of the conversation. The Skipper, perceiving the facts, managed to rouse
him with a few sharp words, and sent him off in hot haste to the
village; and had then proceeded to make the old gentleman comfortable,
and to set things shipshape, so far as might be.

"Do you think he will die?" asked John, peeping over the bed at the
sunken features of the old man.

"I do not!" was the reply.

"I think this my revered uncle has yet many years to live--and repent,
if so he be minded. He is a very bad old man, Colorado, this my revered
uncle! Ah, thou ancient fish, thou art finally landed!"

"Are you sorry for a person when he is so bad as that?" asked the boy,
as he had asked once before.

"Do you think a person could make him better, if he tried very hard
indeed?"

"I have no knowledge!" said the Skipper, rather shortly. "I am a human
person altogether, my son! and I concern myself not greatly with the
improvement of this my revered uncle. Behold it, the will, made by my
grandfather, the father of my poor mother, whose soul, with his, rest in
eternal glory! By this, my mother, and I after her, inherit this house,
this garden, these possessions such as they are. If I desire, son of
mine, I may come here to-day to live, sell the 'Nautilus,' or cut her
cable and let her drift down the river, with Rento and Franci, and all
the shells; and I may live here in my house, to--what do you say?
cultivate my lands, eat grass and give it to the cattle? What think you,
Colorado? Is that a life? Shall I lead it, as is my right? Have I not
had enough, think you, of roving over the sea, with no place where I may
rest, save the heaving ocean, that rests never beneath the foot? Shall
we turn out this old wicked man, who did to death his old father, who
made my mother go sad of heart to her grave, who has done of all his
life no kind act to any person--shall we turn him out, and live in peace
here, you and I?"

The child came near to him, and laid his hand on his friend's knee, and
looked up in his face with troubled eyes.

"I am not very bright," he said, "and you think so many things so
quickly that I do not know what you mean a good deal of the time.
But--but Cousin Scraper took me when my people died, and he has taken
care of me ever since, and--and he has no one else to take care of him
now."

"Yes, the fine care he has taken of you!" said the Skipper. "You are of
skin and bone, my child, and there are marks on your skin of blows, I
saw them yesterday: cruel blows, given from a bad heart. You have worked
for him, this ancient fish-skin, how long? Of wages, how much has he
paid you? Tell me these things, and I will tell you how much it is your
duty to stay by him."

But John shook his head, and the shadows deepened in his blue eyes.

"You cannot tell a person those things," he said; "a person has to tell
himself those things. But thank you all the same," he added, fervently;
"and I love you always more and more, every day and every minute, and I
always shall."

"Now the question is," said the Skipper, shrugging his shoulders in mock
despair, "must I turn pirate in truth, to gain possession of a child
whom I could hold in my pocket, and who would give all his coloured hair
from his head to go with me? Go away, son of mine, that I reflect on
these things, for you try my soul!"

John withdrew, very sad, and wondering how it was that right and wrong
could ever get mixed. He thought of looking in some of the old books to
see, but, somehow, books did not appeal to him just now. He went up to
his own little room, and took down the china poodle, and had a long
talk with him; that was very consoling, and he felt better after it; it
was wonderful how it cleared the mind to talk a thing over with an old
friend. The poodle said little, but his eyes were full of sympathy, and
that was the main thing. By-and-by, as the child sat by his little
window, polishing the pearl-shell on his sleeve, and thinking over the
strange events of the last few days, there came to him from below the
sound of voices. The doctor was there, evidently; perhaps Mr. Bill Hen,
too; and little as he felt inclined to merriment, John fell into a
helpless laughter, as he recalled the look of that worthy man when he
was discovered flattened against the door. How much older one grew
sometimes in a short time! Mr. Bill Hen used to look so old, so wise,
and now he seemed no more than another boy, and perhaps rather a foolish
boy. But seeing the Skipper made a great difference in a person's life.

Presently the door at the foot of the stairs opened, and John heard his
name called; he hastened down, and found Mr. Scraper sitting up in bed,
looking pale and savage, but in full possession of his faculties. The
doctor was there, a burly, kind-eyed man, and Mr. Bill Hen was there,
and the Skipper; and when little John entered, they all looked at him,
and no one said anything for a moment.

At length the doctor broke the silence.

"I understand, sir," he said, addressing the Skipper, "that you have a
paper, a will or the like, substantiating your claims?"

"I have!" the Skipper replied. "The letter received by my mother,
shortly before her death, was dictated by my grandfather, and told that,
hearing for many years nothing from his son, this child's grandfather,
he had made a will in her favour. This, being timorous, he had not dared
to show to anyone, neither to send her a copy, but he bade her send a
messenger to make search in a certain cupboard of this house, on a
certain shelf, where would be found this paper. My mother dying,
commended to me this search. I at that time was a youth on adventures
bent, with already plans for eastern voyages. Keeping always the letter
in my pouch, and in my heart the desire of my mother, I came,
nevertheless, not to this part of the world; years come and go, Señor,
swiftly with men of the sea, and these shores seemed to me less of
attraction than Borneo and other places where were easily to be found my
wares. Briefly, I came not; till this year, a commission from a
collector of some extent brought the 'Nautilus' to New York. And then,
say I, how then if I go on, see this my inheritance, discover if it may
profit me somewhat? I come, I discover my revered uncle, unknown to him.
Is the discovery such that I desire to fall on his respected bosom,
crying, 'My uncle, soul of my family, behold your son!' I ask you,
Señors both! But I find this, my revered uncle, to be a collector of
shells: thus he is in one way already dear to my heart. Again, I find
here at the moment of my arrival a child, who is in effect of my own
blood, who is to me a son from the moment of our first speech. Is it so,
Colorado? Speak, my child!"

John could not speak, but he nodded like a little mandarin, and the red
curls fell into his eyes and hid the tears, so that no one but the
Skipper saw them.

"How then?" the Skipper resumed, after a moment's pause. "My soul not
calling me to reveal myself to this so-dear relative, what do I? I come
to this house, without special plan, to spy out the land, do we say? I
find my uncle forth of the house; I find my child travailing in the
garden. Good! The time appears to me accepted. I enter, I search, I find
the cupboard, I find the paper. Briefly, Señors both, behold me
possessor of this house, this garden, this domain royal."

He handed a paper to the doctor, who read it carefully, and nodded. Mr.
Scraper made an attempt to clutch it in passing, but grasped the air
only.

"What then, in finality, do I say?" the Skipper went on. "Do I desire to
stay in this place? Wishing not to grieve the Señor Pike, whom greatly I
esteem, I consider it unfit for the human being. Of property, I have
little desire; I have for my wants enough, I have my 'Nautilus,' I have
my boys, to what end should I retain these cold spots of earth, never
before seen by me? To what purpose, I ask it of you, Señors? Therefore,
in finality, I say to my revered uncle this: Give to me the child, give
to me the boy, that I take away and make a sailor, for which he was
born; and I of my part surrender house and garden, even any money bags
which may be, what know I, perhaps at this moment in the bed of my
revered uncle concealed?"

The old man gave a convulsive shudder at this, and shrieked faintly; all
started, but the Skipper laughed.

"You see, Señor Pike, and Señor Doctor, greatly respected! Who shall
know how great sums this ancient fish has hidden under him? Let him keep
them, these sums. I take the child, and I go my way. Is it finished,
uncle of my heart? Is it finished, venerable iniquity? Can you part with
the child, beloved, even as your old father was beloved, and like him
caressed and tenderly entreated? Answer, thou!"

But before Mr. Scraper could speak, little John stepped forward, very
pale, but clear in his mind.

"If you please," he said, "I should like to speak. If you please, he
(indicating the Skipper,) is so kind, and--and--he knows what I--he
knows things I have thought about, but he does not know all. Cousin
Scraper, you may be sick now, perhaps a long time, and perhaps you have
gone upon your bed to die, like that king in the Bible who had figs put
on; only he got well.

"And I want to stay and take care of you, and--and I will do as well as
I know how, and I think I can work more than I used to, because I know
more, these last days, than I did, and--and--I think that is all. But if
you don't mind--if you would try to like me a little, I think we should
get on better; and if dried figs would do, we might try those, you
know."

Here he turned to the doctor, with a face of such clear brightness that
the good man choked, and coughed, and finally went and looked out of the
window, wondering whether he was laughing or crying.

Then John came forward, and held out both hands to the old man with an
appealing gesture.

"Will you try to like me a little?" he said; and for the first time his
voice quivered.

"For now my only friend is going away, and I am sending him, and I shall
never see him again."

Mr. Endymion Scraper was a man of few ideas; and only one was in his
mind at this moment. Gathering himself up in the bed, he pushed the boy
away from him with all his feeble strength.

"Go 'way!" he said. "Go 'way, I tell ye. If that man there will take ye,
he's welcome to ye, I guess. If he's fool enough to take ye in exchange
for property, saying the property was his, which I aint fool enough to
do without a lawyer--he's welcome to ye. I say, he's welcome. I don't
want no brats round here. I took ye out of charity, and I've had enough
of ye. Go 'long, I say, with that wuthless feller, if he is my sister's
son. I want to be rid of the hull lot and passel of ye!"

His voice rose to a scream, and the veins on his narrow forehead stood
out like cords. The doctor motioned to the Spaniard; and the latter,
without another word, took the child up in his arms as he had done once
before, swung him over his shoulder, and left the room.



CHAPTER XI.

SAILING.


"Rento!"

"Ay, ay, sir!"

"Franci!"

"Señor!"

"Jack and Jim!"

The monkeys for answer leaped on their master's shoulder, and chattered,
and peered round into his face.

"The company of this schooner, attention! Behold Colorado, who comes to
be my son! He sails with us, he receives kindness from you all, he is in
his home. Instruction you will give him in ways of the sea, and he
becomes in all things your brother. Am I understood?"

The different members of the crew received this intelligence each in his
own way. Rento advanced, and shaking John cordially by the hand, assured
him with honest warmth that he was proper glad to see him, and that he
hoped they should be good friends.

Franci smiled like an angel, and the moment the Skipper's back was
turned, made frightful grimaces at the boy, and threatened his life. But
John was too happy to be afraid of Franci. Going boldly up to him, he
asked,--

"Why don't you like me, and why do you want to kill me? I never did you
any harm, and I should like to be friends, please."

The Spaniard looked at him sidelong out of his soft, sleepy eyes.

"Have you understanding?" he asked presently. "Have you intelligence to
accept the idea of a person of poetry, of soul?"

"I think so!" said John, with some confidence. "I could try, anyhow."

"Look, then!" exclaimed Franci, throwing his arms abroad with a dramatic
gesture.

"I am not of nature murderous. A dove, a lamb at sport in the meadow,
such is the heart of Franci. But--behold me desolated on this infernal
schooner. Torn by my parents from my home, from warm places of my
delight, from various maidens, all enamoured of my person, I am sent to
be a sailor. A life of horror, believe me who say it to you! Wetness,
cold and work; work, cold and wetness! Behold the sea! may it be
accursed, and dry up at the earliest moment! I come here, on this so
disastrous voyage. Have I poetry, think you, on board this vessel? Is
the pig-faced armadillo yonder a companion for me, for Franci? Is my
beauty, the gentleness and grace of my soul appreciated here? even the
Patron, a person in some ways of understanding, has for me only the
treatment of a child, of a servant. Crushed to the ground by these
afflictions, how do I revenge myself? How do I make possible the passage
of time in this wooden prison? I make for myself the action, I make for
myself the theatre. Born for the grace of life, deprived of it, let me
have the horrors! In effect, I would not hurt the safety of a flea; in
appearance, I desire blood, blood, blood!"

He shrieked the last words aloud, and leaped upon the boy, his eyes
glaring like a madman's; but John was on his own ground now; his eyes
shone with appreciation.

"That's splendid!" he cried. "Blood! Oh, I wish I could do it like that!
I say, we can play all kind of things, can't we? We'll be pirates--only
good pirates,--and we'll scour the seas, and save all the shipwrecked
people, won't we? And you shall be the captain (or you might call it
admiral, if you liked the sound better, I often do), and I will be the
mate, or the prisoners, or the drowning folks, just as you like. I love
to play things."

"Come to my heart, angelic child!" cried Franci, flinging out his arms
once more. "At length I am understood, I am appreciated, I have found a
comrade! That I weep on thy bosom, Colorado!"

And, much to the disgust of Rento, he fell upon John's neck, and shed,
or appeared to shed, a few tears, with great parade of silk
handkerchief. He then advanced to where the Skipper was smoking his
cigar in the stern, and informed him, with a low bow, that he and
Colorado were one soul, which the Skipper said he was delighted to hear,
adding that he recommended the one soul to set the two bodies to work
cleaning the brasses.

Franci liked to clean the brasses, because he could see his face in
them, and make eyes at himself as he went along; accordingly he turned
three back-somersaults, a sign of high good-humour with him, and
returned to his new friend.

"Have you noticed, Colorado," he inquired, "the contour of my leg? Did
you observe it now, quivering in the air?"

John nodded appreciation, and wondered how old Franci was.

"To possess beauty," said the latter, gravely, "is a responsibility, my
friend. It is a burden, my soul! Franci has shed tears over it, the
tears of a poet. You have read of Apollo, at least you have heard of
him, the god of poetry, of music, of grace? yes? Behold him, Colorado!
He lives before you, in the form of Franci. Come on, that we clean
together the brasses!"

As for the monkeys, they at once adopted John as their companion and
their lawful prey. They climbed over him, they tried to get into his
pockets, they nestled in his arms, they challenged him to races among
the yards. The Skipper was their king, Franci was their model, the ideal
toward which they vainly aspired. Rento, good, homely Rento, was the
person who fed them, and with whom they could take any liberties, with
no danger of a beating; but the new-comer, the boy John, was simply
another monkey like themselves. Dressed up, it was true, like men, but
in no other way resembling them more than another, more than themselves.
Let him come and play, then, and put on no airs. These were the
sentiments of Jack and Jim, and John responded to them with hearty
good-will.

The Skipper sat smoking, and watched with a quiet smile the gambols of
the three young creatures, as they sped here and there about the
rigging, chattering, laughing, shrieking with glee.

"Laugh, my son!" he said to himself, between the puffs of his cigar.
"Laugh and play, my little son! Far too little laughter has been in thy
life so far; here thou shalt be as gay as the sun is bright on the
Bahamas. Of what use to be a sailor, if not to rejoice, and to see with
joy the works of God and His glory? Laugh, Colorado, the sound is music
in my ears!"

But by-and-by the play must cease. Orders were given, and Rento and
Franci set to work in good earnest. The wind was fair, the tide was
setting out. What should keep them longer here? The sails were hoisted
to the tune of "Baltimore," and Rento's gruff bass and Franci's melting
tenor were mingled for once in friendly harmony.

  "I wish I was in Baltimore!
          lo!
  A-skating on the sanded floor.
      A long time ago!
  Forever and forever,
          lo!
  Forever and forever, boys,
      A long time ago!"

Just as the cables were about to be cast off, a hail was heard from the
wharf, and Mr. Bill Hen Pike appeared, purple and breathless.

"Schooner ahoy!" he gasped; and then fell against a post and mopped his
brow.

"Señor!" responded the Skipper, coming to the stern, and greeting his
guest with a wave of the hand, "you come to bid us farewell? It is
kindly done! Or you bring us, perhaps, a message from our revered uncle?
Speak with haste, Señor, the tide waits not!"

"I--I brought this!" said Mr. Bill Hen, holding up a small object. "I
went up into his room, to see if there was anything he might like, and
there warn't nothing but just this. I thought you'd like to have it,
Johnny, to take along with you."

The good man's voice faltered; John ran to the stern, and held out his
hands eagerly, tenderly, crying,--"Oh, thank you, dear Mr. Pike! thank
you so very, very much!"

For it was the china poodle that Mr. Bill Hen had brought. When the
treasure was safe in the child's hands, Mr. Bill Hen breathed more
freely.

"Now you'll have something to remember us by, Johnny!" he said. "We've
lotted on ye a good deal, here to the village; more maybe than you
thought on. I--I'll miss ye consid'able, off and on, ye see, off and on.
You'll think about us nows and thens, won't ye, Bub?"

"Oh, yes, indeed!" cried little John, eagerly. "I shall think of you a
great, great deal, Mr. Bill Hen! You have always been so good and kind
to me, and I shall miss you, too, and Lena, and lots of people. And--and
how is Cousin Scraper, please, Mr. Bill Hen? Does he miss me, do you
think?"

"He's all right!" replied Mr. Bill Hen, gruffly. "Doosn't seem none the
worse for his tantrum. No, if you ask me, I can't say as he seems to
miss ye, not anyways to hurt him, that is. He'll be out again to-morrow
all right, doctor says; and besides bein' rather uglier than common all
day, I don't see no difference in him."

John sighed, but not very heavily.

"I suppose if I had been nicer he might have missed me," he said; "but
then, on the other hand, if he missed me, he wouldn't be so comfortable
at my going away; so, you see!"

Mr. Bill Hen did not see, but he said it was of no consequence. Then,
coming to the edge of the wharf, he shook hands all round, never
noticing, in the preoccupation of his mind, the knife that Franci
flashed and brandished in his eyes as a parting dramatic effect. He held
John's hand long, and seemed to labour for words, but found none; and so
they slipped away and left him standing alone on the wharf, a forlorn
figure.

Down the river! Sailing, sailing over the magical waters, past the fairy
shores, already darkening into twilight shades of purple and gray. The
white schooner glided along, passing, as she had come, like a dream. In
the bow stood the Skipper, his eyes bent forward, his hand clasping fast
the hand of the child.

"We go, Colorado!" he said. "We go, my son, to new worlds, to a new
life. May a blessing be upon them, as my heart feels there will be.
Behold, my friend, the ways of God, very wonderful to men of the sea. I
come up this river, with what thoughts in my heart? Partly of curiosity,
that I see the place where my mother, long dead, was born, came to her
womanhood; partly of tenderness for her memory, regard for her wish;
partly, also, for anger at the villain brother, my uncle, and desire for
revenge, for my rights. I come, and I find--a child! A brother for my
present life, a son for my age, a friend for my heart! Living upon the
sea, Colorado, a man has much time for thought; the sea speaks to him,
the sky, the wind and wave. What is the word they say, each and every
one, in the ear of the sailor? 'Glory to God!' That is it, my son. Let
us give thanks, and begin with joy our new life together!"

Down the river! The banks fade into shadow, the breeze sinks away, but
still the tide flows free, and the schooner slips along like a spirit.
Now comes up the white fog, the fog out of which she came gliding that
first morning; and it receives her as a bride, and folds her in its
arms, and she melts into the whiteness and is gone. Was it all a dream?
Or does there still come back to us, faintly borne, sweetly ringing, the
song of the sailors?

[Music]

  For-ev-er and  for-ev-er I--o,
  For-ev-er and  for-ev-er boys, A long time a-go.

[Illustration]



The Hildegarde Series

AND OTHER BOOKS BY LAURA E. RICHARDS.


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