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OF THE DISCOURSE HELD ON BOARD THE "GAUNTLET."
"The Pilot assured us that, considering the Gentleness of the Winds and their pleasant Contentions, as also the Clearness of the Atmosphere and the Calm of the Current, we stood neither in Hope of much Good nor in Fear of much Harm . . . and advised us to let the Ship drive, nor busy ourselves with anything but making good Cheer." --The Fifth Book of the Good Pantagruel.
It appeared that, unknown to me, my father had already made his arrangements with Captain Pomery, and we were to sail with the morning's tide. During supper--which Billy Priske had no sooner laid than he withdrew to collect his kit and carry it down to the ship, taking old Worthyvale for company--our good Vicar arrived, as well to bid us good-bye as in some curiosity to learn what recruits we had picked up in Falmouth. I think the sight of them impressed him; but at the tale of our day's adventures, and especially when he heard of our championing the Methodists, his hands went up in horror.
"The Methodists!" For two years past the Vicar had occupied a part of his leisure in writing a pamphlet against them: and by "leisure" I mean all such days as were either too inclement for fishing, or thunderous so that the trout would not rise.
"My dear friend, while you have been sharpening the sword of Saint Athanasius against 'em, the rabble has been beforehand with you and given 'em bloody noses. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of heresy--if you call the Wesleyans heretics--as well as of the Church."
The Vicar sighed. "I have been slack of pace and feeble of will. Yes, yes, I deserve the reproach."
My father laid a hand on his shoulder. "Tut, tut! Cannot you see that I was not reproaching, but rather daring to commend you for an exemplar? There is a slackness which comes of weak will; but there is another and a very noble slackness which proceeds from the two strongest things on earth, confidence and charity; charity, which naturally inclines to be long-suffering, and confidence which, having assurance in its cause, dares to trust that natural inclination. Dissent in the first generation is usually admirable and almost always respectable: men don't leave the Church for fun, but because they have thought and discovered, as they believe, something amiss in her--something which in nine cases out of ten she would be the better for considering. But dissent in the second and third generation usually rests on bad temper, which is not admirable at all, though often excusable because the Church's persecution has produced it. Believe me, my dear Vicar, that if all the bishops followed your example and slept on their wrath against heresy, they would wake up and find nine-tenths of the heretics back in the fold. Indeed I wish your good lady would let you pack your nightcap and come with us. You could hire a curate over from Falmouth."
"Could I write my pamphlet at sea?"
"No: but, better still, by the time you returned the necessity for it would be over."
The Vicar smiled. "You counsel lethargy?--you, who in an hour or two start for Corsica, and with no more to-do than if bound on a picnic!"
"Ay, but for love," answered my father. "In love no man can be too prompt."
"I believe you, sir," hiccuped Mr. Fett, who had been drinking more than was good for him. "And so, begad, does your man Priske. Did any one mark, just now, how like a shooting star he glided in the night from Venus' eye? Love, sir?" he turned to me. "The tender passion? Is that our little game? Is that the face that launched a thousand ships and burnt the topless towers of Ilium? O Troy! O Helen! You'll permit me to add, with a glance at our friend Priske's predicament, O Dido! At five shillings per diem I realize the twin ambitions of a life-time and combine the supercargo with the buck. Well, well! cherchez la femme!"
"You pronounce it 'share-shay?'" inquired Mr. Badcock. "Now I have seen it spelt the same as in 'church.'"
"The same as in ch--?" Mr. Fett fixed him with a glassy but reproachful eye. "Badcock, you are premature, premature and indelicate."
Here my father interposed and, heading the talk back to the Methodists, soon had the Vicar and the little pawnbroker in full cry--parson and clerk antiphonal, "matched in mouth like bells"--on church discipline; which gave him opportunity, while Nat and I at our end of the table exchanged the converse and silences of friendship, to confer with my Uncle Gervase and run over a score of parting instructions on the management of the estate, the ordering of the household, and, in particular, the entertainment of our Trappist guests. Perceiving with the corner of his eye that we two were restless to leave the table, he pushed the bottle towards us.
"My lads," said he, "when the drinking tires let the talk no longer detain you."
We thanked him, and with a glance at Mr. Fett--who had fallen asleep with his head on his arms--stepped out upon the moonlit terrace. I waited for Nat to speak and give me a chance to have it out with him, if he doubted (as he must, methought) my father's sanity. But he gazed over the park at our feet, the rolling shadows of the woodland, the far estuary where one moonray trembled, and stretching out both hands drew the spiced night-air into his lungs with a sob.
"You are wondering where to find your room?" said I, as he turned and glanced up at the grey glimmering facade. "The simplest way is to pick up the first lantern you see in the hall, light it, walk upstairs, enter what room you choose and take possession of its bed. You have five hours to sleep, if you need sleep. Or shall I guide you?"
"No," said he; "the first is the only way in this enchanted house. But I was thinking that by rights, while we are standing here, those windows should blaze with lights and break forth with the noise of dancing and minstrelsy. To such a castle, high against such a velvet night as this, would Sir Lancelot come, or Sir Gawain, or Sir Perceval, at the close of a hard day."
"Wait for the dawn, lad, and you will find it rather the castle overgrown with briers."
"And, in the heart of them, the Rose!"
"You will find no Sleeping Beauty, though you hunt through all its rooms. She lies yonder, Nat, somewhere out beyond the sea there."
"In a few hours we sail to her. O Prosper, and we will find her! This is better than any dream, lad: and this is life!"
He gazed into my eyes for a moment in the moonlight, turned on his heel, and strode away from me toward the great door, which--like every door in the house--stood wide all the summer night. I was staring at the shadow of the porch into which he had disappeared, when my father touched my elbow.
"There goes a good lad," said he, quietly.
"And my best friend."
"He has sobered down strangely from the urchin I remember on Winchester meads; and in the sobering he has grown exalted. A man might almost say," mused my father, "that the imp in him had shed itself off and taken flesh in that Master Fett I left snoring with his head on my dining-table. An earthy spirit, that Master Fett; earthy and yet somewhat inhuman. Your Nat Fiennes has the clue of life--if only Atropos do not slit it."
Here the Vicar came out to take his leave, winding about his neck and throat the comforter he always wore as a protective against the night-air. It appeared later that he was nettled by Mr. Badcock's collapsing beneath the table just as they had reached No. XX. of the Thirty-nine Articles and passed it through committee by consent.
"God bless you, lad!" said he, and shook my hand. "In seeking your kingdom you start some way ahead of Saul the son of Kish. You have already discovered your father's asses."
He trudged away across the dewy park and was soon lost in the darkness. In the dim haze under the moon, having packed Mr. Badcock and Mr. Fett in a hand-cart, we trundled them down to the shore and lifted them aboard. They resisted not, nor stirred.
By three o'clock our dispositions were made and Captain Pomery professed himself ready to cast off. I returned to the house for the last time, to awake and fetch Nat Fiennes. As I crossed the wet sward the day broke and a lark sprang from the bracken and soared above me singing. But I went hanging my head, heavy with lack of sleep.
I tried five rooms and found them empty. In the sixth Nat lay stretched upon a tattered silk coverlet. He sprang up at my touch and felt for his sword.
"Past three o'clock and fine clear mornin'!" sang I, mimicking the Oxford watch, and with my foot the tap of his staff as he had used to pass along Holy well.
"Hey! now the day dawis, The jolly cock crawis--"
"The wind will head us in the upper reach: but beyond it blows fair for Corsica!"
He leapt to his feet and laughed, blithe as the larks now chorussing outside the window. But my head was heavy, and somehow my heart too, as we walked down to the shore.
My Uncle Gervase stood on the grass-grown quay; my father on the deck. They had already said their goodbyes. With his right hand my uncle took mine, at the same time laying his left on my shoulder; and said he--
"Farewell, lad. The rivers in Corsica be short and eager, as I hear; and slight fishing in them near the coast, the banks being overgrown. But it seems there are good trout, and in the mountain pools.
"Whether they be the same as our British trout I cannot discover. I desire you to make certain. Also if the sardines of those parts be the same as our Cornish pilchards, but smaller. Belike they start from the Mediterranean Sea and reach their full size on our coasts.
"The migrations of fishes are even less understood than those of the birds. Yet both (being annual) will teach you, if you consider them, to think little of this parting. God knows, lad, how sorely I spare you.
"Do justice, observe mercy, and walk humbly before thy God. This if they should happen to make you king, as your father promises.
"They have an animal very like a sheep, but wilder and fiercer. If you have the luck to shoot one, I shall be glad of his skin.
"'Twill be a job here, making two ends meet. But as our Lord said, Sufficient for the day is its evil. I have put a bottle of tar-water in your berth.
"I have often wished to set eyes on the Mediterranean Sea. A sea without tides must be but half a sea--speaking with all respect to the Almighty, who made it.
"You will pick up the wind in the lower reach.
"There was a trick or two of fence I taught you aforetime. I had meant to remind you of 'em. But enough, lad. Shake hands. . . . The Lord have you in His keeping!"
Good man! For a long while after we had thrust off from the quay, the two seamen in the cock-boat towing us, he stood there and waved farewells; but turned before we reached the river bend, and went his way up through the woods--since in Cornwall it is held unlucky to watch departing friends clean out of sight.
Almost at once I went below in search of my hammock, and there slept ten solid hours by the clock; a feat of which I never witted until, coming upon deck, I rubbed my eyes to find no sight of land, but the sea all around us, and Captain Pomery at the helm, with the sun but a little above his right shoulder. The sky, but for a few fleeced clouds, was clear; a brisk north-westerly breeze blew steady on our starboard quarter, and before it the ketch ran with a fine hiss of water about her bluff bows. My father and Nat were stretched with a board between them on the deck by the foot of the mizzen, deep in a game of chequers: and without disturbing them I stepped amidships where Mr. Fett lay prone on his belly, his chin propped on both hands, in discourse with Billy and Mr. Badcock, who reclined with their backs against the starboard bulwark.
"Tut, man!" said Mr. Fett, cheerfully, addressing Billy. "You have taken the right classical way with her: think of Theseus and Ariadne, Phaon and Sappho. . . . We are back in the world's first best age; when a man, if he wanted a woman to wife, sailed in a ship and abducted her, as did the Tyrian sea-captain with Io daughter of Inachus, Jason with Medea, Paris with Helen of Greece; and again, when he tired of her, left her on an island and sailed away. There was Sappho, now; she ran and cast herself off a rock. And Medea, she murdered her children in revenge. But we are over hasty, to talk of children."
Billy groaned aloud, "I meant no harm to the woman."
"Nor did these heroes. As I was saying, on board this ship I find myself back in the world's dawn, ready for any marvels, but responsible (there's the beauty of it) only to my ledger. As supercargo I sit careless as a god on Olympus. My pen is trimmed, my ink-pot filled, and my ledger ruled and prepared for miracles. Item, a Golden Fleece. Item, A king's runaway daughter, slightly damaged:
"Whatever befel the good ship Argo It didn't affect the supercargo,"
who whistled and sat composing blank verse, having discovered that Jason rhymed most unheroically with bason:
"Neglecting the daughter of Aeson Sat Jason, a bason his knees on--"
"You don't help a man much, sir, so far as I understand you," grumbled Billy, with a nervous glance around the horizon.
"Well, then I'll prescribe you another way. Nobody believes me when I tell the following story: but 'tis true nevertheless. So listen--
MR. FETT'S STORY OF THE INTERRUPTED BETROTHAL.
"To the south of the famous city of Oxford, between it and the town of Abingdon, lies a neat covert called Bagley Wood: in the which, on a Sunday evening a bare two months ago, I chose to wander with my stage copy of Mr. Otway's Orphan--a silly null play, sirs, if not altogether the nonsense for which Abingdon, two nights later, condemned it. While I wandered amid the undergrowth, conning my part, my attention was arrested by a female voice on the summer breeze, most pitiably entreating for help. I closed my book and bent my steps in the direction of the outcries. Judge of my amazement when, parting the bushes in a secluded glade, I came upon a distressed but not uncomely maiden, buried up to her neck in earth beneath the spreading boughs of a beech. To exhume and release her cost me, unprovided as I was with any tool for the purpose, no little labour. At length, however, I disengaged her and was rewarded with her story; which ran, that a faithless swain, having decoyed her into the recesses of the wood, had pushed her into a pit prepared by him; and that but for the double accident of having miscalculated her inches and being startled by my recitations of Otway into a terror that the whole countryside was after him with hue and cry, he had undoubtedly consummated his fell design. After cautioning her to be more careful in future I parted from the damsel (who to the last protested her gratitude) and walked homeward to my lodgings, on the way reflecting how frail a thing is woman when matched against man the libertine."
Billy Priske's eyes had grown round in his head. Mr. Badcock, after sitting in thought for a full minute, observed that the incident was peculiar in many respects.
"Is that the end of the yarn?" I asked.
"I never met the lady again," confessed Mr. Fett. "As for the story," he added with a sigh, "I am accustomed to have it disbelieved. Yet let me tell you this. On my return I related it to the company, who received it with various degrees of incredulity--all but a youthful stroller who had joined us at Banbury and earned promotion, on the strength of his looks, from 'walking gentleman' to what is known in the profession as 'first lover.' On the strength of this, again, he had somewhat hastily aspired to the hand of our leading tragedy lady--a mature person, who knew her own mind. My narrative seemed to dispel the atmosphere of gloom which had hung about him for some days; and the next morning, having promised to accompany his betrothed on a stroll up the river bank, he left the inn with a light, almost jaunty, tread. From the balcony I watched them out of sight. By-and-by, however, I spied a figure returning alone by the towpath; and, concealing myself, heard young Romeo in the courtyard carelessly demanding of the ostler the loan of a spade. From behind my curtain I watched him as again he made his way up the shore with the implement tucked under his arm. I waited in a terrible suspense. Each minute seemed an hour. A thunderstorm happening to break over the river at this juncture (as such things do), the scene lacked no appropriate accessory. At length, between two flashes of lightning, I perceived in the distance my two turtles returning, and gave voice to my relief. They were walking side by side, but no longer arm-in-arm. Young Romeo hung his head dejectedly: and on a closer view the lady's garments not only dripped with the storm but showed traces of earth to the waist. The rest they kept to themselves. I say no more, save that after the evening's performance (of 'All for Love') young Romeo came to me and announced that his betrothal was at an end. They had discovered (as he put it) some incompatibility of temper."
My father and Nat Fiennes had finished their game and come forward in time to hear the conclusion of this amazing narrative. Billy Priske stared at his master in bewilderment.
"A spade!" growled Billy, mopping his brow and letting his gaze travel around the horizon again before settling, in dull wrath, on Mr. Fett. "What's the use, sir, of makin' a man feel like a villain and putting thoughts into his head without means to fulfil 'em?"
"Sit you quiet," said my father, "while I try to drive Mr. Fett's story out of your head with an honester one."
"About a spade, master?"
"There is a spade in the story."
MY FATHER'S STORY OF THE SHIPWRECKED LOVERS.
"In the year 1416 a certain Portuguese sea-captain, Gonsalvez Zarco by name, and servant of the famous Henry of Portugal, was cruising homeward in a leaky caravel from a baffled voyage in search of the Fortunate Islands. He had run into a fog off Cape Blanco in Africa, and had been pushing through it for two days when the weather lifted and the look-out spied a boat, empty but for one man, drifting a mile and more to leeward. Zarco ran down for the boat, and the man, being brought aboard, was found to be an escaped Moorish prisoner on his way back to Spain. He gave his name as Morales, and said that he had sometime been a pilot of Seville, but being captured by the Moors off Algeciras, had spent close on twenty years in servitude to them. In the end he and six other Christians had escaped in a boat of their own making, but with few victuals. When these were consumed his companions had perished one by one, horribly, and he had been sailing without hope, not caring whither, for a day and a night before his rescue came.
"Now this much he told them painfully, being faint with fasting and light-headed: but afterwards falling into a delirium, he let slip certain words that caused Captain Zarco to bestow him in a cabin apart and keep watch over him until the ship reached Lagos, whence he conveyed him secretly and by night to Prince Henry, who dwelt at that time in an arsenal of his own building, on the headland of Sagres. There Prince Henry questioned him, and the old man, taken by surprise, told them a story both true and wonderful.
"In his captivity he had made friends with a fellow prisoner, an Englishman named Prince or Prance (since dead, after no less than thirty years of servitude), who had fallen among the Moors in the manner following. In his youth he had been a seaman, and one day in the year 1370 he was standing idle on Bristol Quay when a young squire accosted him and offered to hire him for a voyage to France, naming a good wage and pressing no small share of it upon him as earnest money. The ship (he said, naming her) lay below at Avonmouth and would sail that same night. Prince knew the ship and her master, and judged from the young squire's apparel and bearing that here was one of those voluntary expeditions by which our young nobles made it a fashion to seek fame at the expense of our enemies the French; a venture dangerous indeed but carrying a hopeful chance of high profits. He agreed, therefore, and joined the ship a little after nightfall. Toward midnight arrived a boat with our young squire and one companion, a lady of extreme beauty, who had no sooner climbed the ship's side than the master cut the anchor-cable and stood out for sea.
"The names of these pretty runaways were Robert Machin and Anne d'Arfet, wife of a sour merchant of Bristol; and all their care was to flee together and lose all the world for love. But they never reached France; for having run prosperously down Channel and across from the Land's End until they sighted Ushant, they met a north-easterly gale which blew them off the coast; a gale so blind and terrible and persistent that for twelve days they ran before it, in peril of death. On the thirteenth day they sighted an island, where, having found (as they thought) good anchorage, they brought the ship to, and rowed the lady ashore through the surf. Between suffering and terror she was already close upon death.
"Now this man Prince said that 'though the seamen laid their peril at her door, holding the monstrous storm to be a judgment direct from Heaven upon her sin, yet not one of them, considering her childish beauty, had the heart to throw her an ill word or so much as an accusing look: but having borne her ashore they built a tabernacle of boughs and roofed it with a spare sail for her and for her lover, who watched beside her till she died.
"On the morning of her death the seamen, who slept on the beach at a little distance, were awakened by a terrible cry: whereat, gazing seaward--as a seaman's first impulse is--they missed all sight of their ship. Either the gale, reviving, had parted her moorings and blown her out to sea, or else the two or three left on board her treacherously slipped her cable. At all events, no more was ever heard of her.
"The seamen supposed then that Master Machin had called out for the loss of the ship. But coming to him they found him staring at the poor corpse of his lady; and when they pointed to sea he appeared to mark not their meaning. Only he said many times, 'Is she gone? Is she gone?' Whether he spoke of the ship or of the lady they could not tell. Thereafter he said nothing, but turned his face away from all offers of food, and on the fifth day the seaman buried him beside his mistress and set up a wooden cross at their heads.
"After this (said Prince), finding no trace of habitation on the island, and being convinced that no ship ever passed within sight of it, the seamen caught and killed four of the sheep which ran wild upon the cliffs, and with the flesh of them provisioned the boat in which they had come ashore, and took their leave. For eleven days they steered as nearly due east as they could--that being the quarter in which they supposed the mainland to lie, until a gale overtook them, and, drowning the rest, cast four of them alive on the coast near Mogador, where the Moors fell on them and sold them into slavery, to masters living wide apart. Yet, and howsoever the others perished, in the mouth of this one man the story lived and came after many days to ears that understood it.
"For Prince Henry, hearing the pilot's tale, believed verily that this must be the island for which his sea-captains had been searching, and in 1420 sent Zarco forth again to seek it, with the old man on board. They reached Porto Santo, where they heard of a dark line visible in all clear weather on the southern horizon, and sailing for it through the fogs, came to a marshy cape, and beyond this cape to high wooded land which Morales recognized at once from his fellow-prisoner's description. Yes, and bringing them to shore he led them, unerring, to the wooden cross above the beach; and there, over the grave of these lovers, Zarco took seizin of the island in the name of King John of Portugal, Prince Henry, and the Order of Christ.
"From this," my father concluded, "we may learn, first, that human passion, of all things the most transient, may be stronger and more enduring than death; of all things the unruliest and most deserving to be chastened, it may rise naked from the scourge to claim the homage of all men; nay, that this mire in which the multitude wallows may on an instant lift up a brow of snow and challenge the Divinity Himself, saying, 'We are of one essence, Shall not I too work miracles?' Secondly--"
"Your pardon, master," put in Billy, "but in all the fine speeches about Love and War and suchlike that I've heard you read out of books afore now, I could never make out what use they be to common fellows like myself. Say 'tis a battle: you start us off with a shout, which again starts off our betters a-knocking together other folks' heads and their own: but afterwards, when I'm waiting and wondering what became of Billy Priske, all the upshot is that some thousand were slaughtered and maybe enough to set some river running with blood. Likewise with these seamen, that never ran off with their neighbours' wives, but behaved pretty creditable under the circumstances, which didn't prevent their being spilt out of boats and eaten by fishes or cast ashore and barbecued by heathen Turks--a pretty thing this Love did for them, I say. And so to come to my own case, which is where this talk started, I desire with all respect, master, that you will first ease my mind of this question--be I in love, or bain't I?"
"Surely, man, you must know that?"
Billy shook his head. "I've what you might call a feeling t'wards the woman: and yet not rightly what you might call a feeling, nor yet azactly, as you might say, t'wards her. And it can't be so strong as I reckoned, for when she spoke the word 'marriage' you might ha' knocked me down with a straw."
"Eh?" put in Mr. Fett, "was she the first to mention it?"
"Me bein' a trifle absent-minded, maybe, on that point," explained Billy. His gaze happening to wander to the wheel, encountered Captain Jo Pomery's; and Captain Jo, who had been listening, nodded encouragement.
"Speakin' as a seafarin' man and the husband o' three at one time and another," said he, "they always do so."
"My Artemisia," said Mr. Badcock, "was no exception; though a powerful woman and well able to look after herself."
"'Tis their privilege," agreed Captain Pomery. "You must allow 'em a few."
"But contrariwise," Billy resumed, "it must be stronger than I reckoned, for here I be safe, as you may say, and here I should be grateful; whereas I bain't, and, what's more, my appetite's failin'. Be you goin' to give me something for it?" he asked, as Mr. Badcock dived a hand suddenly into a tail pocket and drew forth what at first appeared to be the neck of a bottle, but to closer view revealed itself as the upper half of a flute. A second dive produced the remainder.
"Good Lord! Badcock has another accomplishment!" ejaculated Mr. Fett.
"The gift of music," said Mr. Badcock, screwing the two portions of the instrument together, "is born in some. The great Batch--John Sebastian Batch, gentlemen--as I am credibly informed, composed a fugue in his bed at the tender age of four."
"He was old enough to have given his nurse warning," said Mr. Fett.
"With me," pursued Mr. Badcock, modestly, "it has been the result of later and (I will not conceal the truth, sirs) more assiduous cultivation. This instrument"--he tapped it affectionately--"came to me in the ordinary way of trade and lay unredeemed in my shop for no less than eight years; nor when exposed for sale could it tempt a purchaser. 'You must do something with it,' said my Artemisia--an excellent housewife, gentlemen, who wasted nothing if she could help it. I remember her giving me the same advice about an astrolabe, and again about a sun-dial corrected for the meridian of Bury St. Edmunds. 'My dear,' I answered, 'there is but one thing to be done with a flute, and that is to learn it.' In this way I discovered what I will go no further than to describe as my Bent."
Mr. Badcock put the flute to his lips and blew into it. A tune resulted.
"But," persisted Billy Priske, after a dozen bars or so, "the latest thing to be mentioned was my appetite: and 'tis wonderful to me how you gentlemen are letting the conversation stray, this afternoon."
"The worst of a flute," said Mr. Badcock, withdrawing it from his lips with obvious reluctance, "and the objection commonly urged by its detractors, is that a man cannot blow upon it and sing at the same time."
"I don't say," said Billy, seriously, "as that mayn't be a reas'nable objection; only it didn't happen to be mine."
"You have heard the tune," said Mr. Badcock. "Now for the words--
"I attempt from love's sickness to fly, in vain, Since I am myself my own fever and pain."
"Bravo!" my father cried. "Mr. Badcock has hit it. You are in love, Billy, and beyond a doubt."
"Be I?" said Billy, scratching his head. "Well, as the saying is, many an ass has entered Jerusalem."
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