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"Imogen!" said Star, looking up from her book, "I don't believe you have been listening!"
Imogen looked up meekly, but made no attempt to deny the charge.
"You must listen!" said the child, sternly. "First place, it's beautiful: and besides, it's very rude not to listen when people reads. And you ought not to be rude, Imogen!" After which short lecture, Star turned to her book again,--a great book it was, lying open on the little pink calico lap,--and went on reading, in her clear childish voice:
"'Over hill, over dale, Thorough bush, thorough brier, Over park, over pale, Thorough flood, thorough fire, I do wander everywhere, Swifter than the moony sphere; And I serve the fairy queen, To dew her orbs upon the green:'
Do you know what a fairy is, Imogen?" asked Star, looking up again suddenly.
But this time it was very evident that Imogen (who was, in truth, a large white cow, with a bell round her neck) was paying no attention whatever to the reading; for she had fairly turned her back, and was leisurely cropping the short grass, swaying her tail in a comfortable and reflective manner the while.
Star sprang to her feet, and seizing the delinquent's horns, shook them with all her might.
"How dare you turn your back when I am reading?" she cried. "I'm just ashamed of you! You're a disgrace to me, Imogen. Why, you are as ignorant as a--as--as a lobster! and you a great cow with four whole legs. A--a--ah! shame on you!"
Imogen rubbed her head deprecatingly against the small pink shoulder, and uttered a soft and apologetic "moo;" but Star was not ready to be mollified yet.
"And you know it's my own book, too!" she continued, reproachfully. "My own Willum Shakespeare, that I love more--well, no! not more than I love you, Imogen, but just as much, and almost nearly half as much as I love Daddy Captain.
"But after all," she added, with a smile flitting over her frowning little face, "after all, you poor dear, you are only a cow, and I don't suppose you know." And then she hugged Imogen, and blew a little into one of her ears, to make her wink it, and the two were very friendly again.
"Perhaps you would like to know, Imogen," said Star, confidentially, seating herself once more on the ground, "why I am so fond of Willum Shakespeare. So I will tell you. It is really part of my story, but Daddy Captain didn't get as far as that last night, so I think I will tell it to you. Well!" she drew a long breath of enjoyment, and, clasping her hands round her knees, settled herself for a "good talk."
"Well, Imogen: you see, at first I was a little baby, and didn't know anything at all. But by and by I began to grow big, and then Daddy Captain said to himself, 'Here's a child,' he says, 'and a child of gentlefolks, and she mustn't grow up in ignorance, and me doing my duty by her poor pa and ma,' he says. So he rows over to the town, and he goes to the minister (the same minister who came over here before), and he says, 'Good morning, Minister!' and the minister shakes him by the hand hearty, and says, 'Why, Captain January!' he says, 'I'm amazing glad to see you. And how is the child?' And Daddy says, 'The child is a-growing with the flowers,' he says; 'and she's a-growing like the flowers. Show me a rose that's as sweet and as well growed as that child,' he says, 'and I'll give you my head, Minister.' That's the way Daddy talks, you know, Imogen. And then he told the minister how he didn't want the child (that was me, of course) to grow up in ignorance, and how he wanted to teach me. And the minister asked him was he qualified to teach. 'Not yet, I ain't!' says Daddy Captain, 'but I'm a-going to be. I want a book, or maybe a couple of books, that'll edicate me in a manner all round!' he says. 'I couldn't do with a lot of 'em,' he says, ''cause I ain't used to it, and it makes things go round inside my head. But I think I could tackle two if they was fustrate,' he says. The minister laughed, and told Daddy he wanted a good deal. Then he asked him if he had the Good Book. That's the Bible, you know, Imogen. Daddy Captain won't let me read that to you, because you are a beast that perish. Poor dear!" she leaned forward and kissed Imogen's pink nose. "And Daddy said of course he had that, only the letters weren't so clear as they used to be, somehow, perhaps along of getting wet in his weskit pocket, being he carried it along always. So the minister gave him a new big BEAUTIFUL Bible, Imogen! It isn't so new now, but it's just as big and beautiful, and I love it. And then he thought for a long time, the minister did, walking about the room and looking at all the books. The whole room was full of books, Daddy says, all on shelves, 'cept some on the floor and the table and the chairs. It made his head go round dreadful to see them all, Daddy says (I mean Daddy's head), and think of anybody reading them. He says he doesn't see how in creation the minister manages to keep his bearings, and look out for a change in the wind, and things that have to be done, and read all those books too. Well!" she kissed Imogen's nose again, from sheer enjoyment, and threw her head back with a laugh of delight. "I'm coming to it now, Imogen!" she cried. "At last the minister took down a big book--OH! you precious old thing, how I love you!" (this apostrophe was addressed to the quarto volume which she was now hugging rapturously), "and said, 'Well, Captain January, here's the best book in the world, next to the Good Book!' he says. 'You'll take this,' he says, 'as my gift to you and the child; and with these two books to guide you, the child's edication won't go far wrong!' he says; and then he gave Daddy the dictionary, too, Imogen; but I sha'n't tell you about that, because it's a brute, and I hate and 'spise it. But--well! so, you see, that was the way I got my Willum Shakespeare, my joy and my pride, my--"
At this moment a shadow fell upon the grass, and a deep, gruff voice was heard, saying, "Star, ahoy!" The child started up, and turned to meet the newcomer with a joyous smile. "Why, Bob!" she cried, seizing one of his hands in both of hers, and dancing round and round him. "Where did you come from? Why aren't you on the boat?"
"Boat's aground!" replied the person addressed as Bob. He spoke in short, jerky sentences. He was dressed as a seafaring man; had wide, helpless-looking brown eyes, an apologetic smile, and a bass voice of appalling depth and power. "Boat's aground," he repeated, seating himself on the grass and looking about for a stem of grass long enough to put in his mouth. "Hard and fast. Waiting for tide to turn; thought I'd come, pass time o' day."
"And how came you to run her aground?" inquired the child, severely. "A pretty pilot you are! Why, I could steer her myself better than that."
"Fog!" replied the man, in a meek and muffled roar. Then finding a bit of sorrel, he fell upon it with avidity, and seemed to think he had said enough.
"H'm!" said Star, with a disdainful little sniff. "You'd better get Daddy to steer your boat. He doesn't mind fog. Are there many people on board?" she added, with an air of interest.
"Heaps!" replied Bob, succinctly. Then, after a pause of meditative chewing: "Like to go aboard? take ye--boat--Cap'n willin'."
"No, I don't want to go aboard, thank you!" said Star. "I don't like people. But you might just row me round her once, Bob," she added. "I think I should like that. But we must wait till Daddy comes, of course."
"Cap'n round?" inquired Bob.
"He's setting the lobster-pots," replied the child. "He'll be back soon. Bob," she added, irrelevantly, a moment after, "I never noticed before that you looked like Imogen. Why, you are the very image of her, Bob! Your eyes and your expression are exactly the same." Bob raised his eyes and surveyed Imogen with a critical air. "Fine cow!" he said at last. "D'no's I mind--'f she doosn't."
"Isn't she a fine cow?" cried little Star, patting the meek and graceful head of her favourite. "I don't believe there's another such cow in the world. I know there isn't! I think," she added, "I will take a little ride on her, while we are waiting for Daddy Captain. Will you put me up, please, Bob?"
The obedient Bob lifted her as if she were a ball of thistle-down, and set her on the broad back of the good cow, who straightway began to pace sedately along the bit of meadow, following the guidance of the small hands which clasped her horns. Ah! who will paint me that picture, as my mind's eye sees it? The blue of sky and sea, the ripples breaking in silver on silver sand, the jewelled green, where the late dandelions flecked the grass with gold; and in the midst the lovely, laughing child, mounted on the white cow, tossing her cloudy golden hair, and looking back with eyes of delight towards her companion.
The beauty of it all filled the eyes and the heart of Captain January, as he came up among the rocks. He paused, and stood for some time in silence, watching the little well-beloved figure. "Wal!" he said, "if that ain't one of the young-eyed cherubims, then I never seed one, that's all."
At this moment Star caught sight of him. "O Daddy," she cried. "My Daddy Captain, I'm having such a fine ride! It isn't quite as high as a heaven-kissing hill, but it's a heaven-kissing cow, for Imogen is really very high. Dear Daddy, won't you come and try it? there's plenty of room!"
"Thanky, Peach Blossom!" said the Captain, advancing, and greeting the apologetic Bob with a hearty shake of the hand. "Thanky kindly, but I don't believe I will try it. Ridin' was never, so as to say, in my line. I'm stiddy enough on my own pins, but defend me from tryin' to git about on another critter's. And how's all with you, Bob? and why ain't you aboard the Huntress?"
Bob in the fewest possible words related the mishap which had befallen the boat, and asked if he might take Missy out to see her.
"To be sure! to be sure!" said Captain January. "That'll be a nice trip for ye, Honeysuckle. Put on your bunnit and go with Bob. He'll take good care of ye, Bob will."
And so, by what seemed the merest chance, that lovely afternoon, little Star went with Bob Peet, in his old black boat, to see the steamer Huntress aground on a sand-bank off the main shore.
The sea lay all shining and dimpling in the afternoon light, and not a cloud was to be seen overhead. Here and there a white gull was slowly waving his wings through the clear air, and little fish came popping their heads out of the water, just for the pleasure of popping them back again. Star dipped her hands in the blue crystal below, and sang little snatches of song, being light of heart and without a care in the world. They were no nursery songs that she sang, for she considered herself to have outgrown the very few Mother Goose ditties which Captain January had treasured in his mind and heart ever since his mother sang them to him, all the many years ago. She was tired of:
"Jacky Barber's coming to town: Clear away, gentlemen! clear away, gentlemen! One foot up and t'other foot down, Jacky Barber's coming to town."
But she loved the scraps of sea-song that the old Captain still hummed over his work: "Baltimore," and "Blow a Man Down," and half a dozen other salt-water ditties: and it might have been strange to less accustomed ears than Bob Peet's to hear the sweet child-voice carolling merrily:
"Boney was a warrior, Weigh! heigh! oh! Boney was a warrior, John Francois! Boney whipped the Rooshians, Weigh! heigh! oh! Boney whipped the Prooshians, John Francois! Boney went to Elba, Weigh! heigh! oh!" etc.
Bob's oars kept time with the song, and his portentous voice thundered out the refrain with an energy which shook the little skiff from stem to stern. By the time that "Boney" was safely consigned to his grave in sunny France, they were nearing the flats on which the steamer Huntress lay, quietly awaiting the turn of the tide.
Star knew the great white boat well, for twice a day she went thundering past Light Island, churning the quiet blue water into foam with her huge paddles, on her way to and from the gay summer city which all the world came to visit. Nearly every day the child would run out on the south rocks to wave a greeting to some of her acquaintances among the crew; for she knew them all, from the black-bearded captain down to the tiniest cabin-boy; and they, for their part, were always eager--good souls!--for a smile or a nod from the "Star of Light Island." Not a man of them but envied Bob Peet his privilege of going when he pleased to the lighthouse rock. For Captain January was not fond of visitors, and gave them no encouragement to come, Bob Peet being the single exception to the rule. The Captain liked Bob because he was not "given to clatter," and "knew how to belay his jaw."
"I do love to see a man belay his jaw!" said Captain January, unconsciously quoting the words of another and a more famous captain, the beloved David Dodd. So Bob was free to come and go as he liked, and to smoke his pipe in sociable silence for hours at a time, within the walls of Storm Castle.
"Stop here, Bob!" said Star, with an imperious motion of her hand. "I don't want to go any nearer." The obedient Bob lay on his oars, and both looked up at the great boat, now only a few yards away. The decks were crowded with passengers, who leaned over the railings, idly chatting, or watching the water to see if the tide had turned.
"Sight o' folks," said Bob Peet, nodding towards the after-deck, which seemed a solid mass of human beings.
"Yes," said the child, speaking half to herself, in a low tone. "It's just like the Tower of Babel, isn't it? I should think they would be afraid. 'And the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth.' And it's so stupid!" she added, after a moment's pause. "Why don't they stay at home? Haven't they any homes to stay at? Who takes care of their homes while they go sailing about like loons?"
"Folks likes to v'yage," said Bob Peet, with mild toleration. "Heaps--nothin' t' do--hot spells--v'yages." He added, with an approach to a twinkle in his meek and cow-like eyes, "Try it--some day--git tired of ol' Cap'n--ol' rock--pooty soon--take ye--v'yage--"
His speech was interrupted by a sudden and violent dash of water in his face.
"Take that!" cried Star, panting with fury, and flinging the water at him with all her small might. "I wish it was sharp stones, instead of just water. I wish it was needles, and jagged rocks, and quills upon the fretful porkypine, so I do! How dare you say such things to me, Bob Peet? How dare you?" She paused, breathless, but with flashing eyes and burning cheeks; while Bob meekly mopped his face and head with a red cotton handkerchief, and shook the water from his ears, eyeing her the while with humble and deprecatory looks.
"No offence," he muttered, in apologetic thunder-rumble. "Poor ol' Bob--eh, Missy? Sorry, beg pardon! Never no more. Didn't mean it--nohow!"
The tempest subsided as suddenly as it rose, and Star, with a forgiving nod, took out her own little handkerchief and daintily wiped a few drops from her victim's forehead.
"You're so stupid, Bob," she said, frankly, "that I suppose I ought not to get angry with you, any more than I would with Imogen, though even she provokes me sometimes. So I forgive you, Bob. But if you ever say such a thing again as my getting tired of Daddy, I'll kill you. So now you know!"
"Jes' so!" assented Bob. "Nat'rally! To b' sure!"
The sudden splashing of the water had caught many eyes on the deck of the Huntress, and people admired the "playfulness" of the pretty child in the little boat. One pair of eyes, however, was sharper than the rest.
"Just look at that child, Isabel!" said a tall, bronzed gentleman who was leaning over the taff-rail. "She is a perfect little fury! I never saw a pair of eyes flash so. Very fine eyes they are, too. A very beautiful child. Isabel! why, my dear, what is the matter? You are ill--faint! let me--"
But the lady at his side pushed his arm away, and leaned forward, her eyes fixed upon Star's face.
"George," she said, in a low, trembling voice, "I want to know who that child is. I must know, George! Find out for me, dear, please!"
As she spoke, she made a sign towards the boat, so earnest, so imperative, that it caught Star's wandering gaze. Their eyes met, and the little child in the pink calico frock, and the stately lady in the India shawl, gazed at each other as if they saw nothing else in the world. The gentleman looked from one to the other in amazement.
"Isabel!" he whispered, "the child looks like you. What can this mean?"
But little Star, in the old black boat, cried, "Take me away, Bob! take me home to my Daddy Captain! Quick! do you hear?"
"Jes' so" said Bob Peet. "Nat'rally!"
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