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HOW ONE THAT WAS DISSATISFIED WITH HIS PAST SAW A VISION, BUT DOUBTED.
Caleb Trotter watched his master's behaviour during the next few days with a growing impatience.
"I reckon," he said, "'tes wi' love, as Sally Bennett said when her old man got cotched i' the dreshin'-machine,' you'm in, my dear, an' you may so well go dro'.'"
Nevertheless, he would look up from his work at times with anxiety.
"Forty-sax. That's the forty-saxth time he've a-trotted up that blessed beach an' back; an' five times he've a-pulled up to stare at the watter. I've a-kep' count wi' these bits o' chip. An' at night 'tes all round the house, like Aaron's dresser, wi' a face, too, like as ef he'd a-lost a shillin' an' found a thruppeny-bit. This 'ere pussivantin'  may be relievin' to the mind, but I'm darned ef et can be good for shoe-leather. 'Tes the wear an' tear, that's what 'tes, as Aunt Lovey said arter killin' her boy wi' whackin'."
The fact is that Mr. Fogo was solving his problem, though the process was painful enough. He was concerned, too, for Caleb, whose rest was often broken by his master's restlessness. In consequence he determined to fit up a room for his own use. Caleb opposed the scheme at first; but, finding that the business of changing diverted Mr. Fogo's melancholy, gave way at last, on a promise that "no May-games" should be indulged in--a festival term which was found to include somnambulism, suicide, and smoking in bed.
The room chosen lay on the upper storey at the extreme east of the house, and looked out, between two tall elms, upon the creek and the lepers' burial-ground. It was chosen as being directly over the room occupied by Caleb, so that, by stamping his foot, Mr. Fogo could summon his servant at any time. The floor was bare of carpet, and the chamber of decoration. But Mr. Fogo hated decoration, and, after slinging his hammock and pushing the window open for air, gazed around on the blistered ceiling and tattered wall-paper, rubbed his hands, and announced that he should be very comfortable.
"Well, sir," said Caleb, as he turned to leave him for the night, "arter all, comfort's a matter o' comparison, as St. La'rence said when he turned round 'pon the gridiron. But the room's clane as watter an' scourin' 'll make et--reminds me," he continued, with a glance round, "o' what the contented clerk said by hes office-stool: 'Chairs es good,' said he, 'and sofies es better; but 'tes a great thing to harbour no dust.' Any orders, sir?"
"No, I fancy--stop! Is my writing-case here?"
Caleb's anxiety took alarm.
"You bain't a-goin' to do et in writin' sir, surely!"
Mr. Fogo stared.
"Don't 'ee, sir--don't 'ee!"
"Really, Caleb, your behaviour is most extraordinary. What is it that I am not to do?"
"Why, put et in writin', sir: they don't like et. Go up an' ax her like a man--'Will 'ee ha' me? Iss or no?' That was ould Dick Jago's way, an' I reckon he knowed, havin' married sax wifes, wan time an' another. But as for pen and ink--"
"You mistake me," interrupted Mr. Fogo, with a painful flush. He paused irresolutely, and then added, in a softer tone, "Would you mind taking a seat in the window here, Caleb? I have something to say to you."
Caleb obeyed. For a moment or two there was silence as Mr. Fogo stood up before his servant. The light of the candle on the chest beside him but half revealed his face. When at last he spoke it was in a heavy, mechanical tone.
"You guessed once," he said, "and rightly, that a woman was the cause of my seclusion in this place. In such companionship as ours, it would have been difficult--even had I wished it--to keep up the ordinary relations of master and man; and more than once you have had opportunities of satisfying whatever curiosity you may have felt about my--my past. Believe me, Caleb, I have noted your forbearance, and thank you for it."
Caleb moved uneasily, but was silent.
"But my life has been too lonely for me," pursued his master wearily. "On general grounds one would not imagine the life of a successful hermit to demand any rare qualifications. It is humiliating, but even as a hermit I am a failure: for instance, you see, I want to talk."
His hearer, though puzzled by the words, vaguely understood the smile of self-contempt with which they were closed.
"As a woman-hater, too, my performances are beneath contempt. I did think," said Mr. Fogo with something of testiness in his voice, "I should prove an adequate woman-hater, whereas it happens--"
He broke off suddenly, and took a turn or two up and down the room. Caleb could have finished the sentence for him, but refrained.
"Surely," said Mr. Fogo, pausing suddenly in his walk, "surely the conditions were favourable enough. Listen. It is not so very long ago since I possessed ambitions--hopes; hopes that I hugged to myself as only a silent man may. With them I meant to move the world, so far as a writer can move the world (which I daresay may be quite an inch). These hopes I put in the keeping of the woman I loved. Can you foresee the rest?"
Caleb fumbled in his pocket for his pipe, found it, held it up between finger and thumb, and, looking along the stem, nodded.
"We were engaged to be married. Two days before the day fixed for our wedding she--she came to me (knowing me, I suppose, to be a mild man) and told me she was married--had been married for a week or more, to a man I had never seen--a Mr. Goodwyn-Sandys. Hallo! is it broken?"
For the pipe had dropped from Caleb's fingers and lay in pieces upon the floor.
"Quite so," he went on in answer to the white face confronting him, "I know it. She is at this moment living in Troy with her husband. I had understood they were in America; but the finger of fate is in every pie."
Caleb drew out a large handkerchief, and, mopping his brow, gasped--
"Well, of all--" And then broke off to add feebly, "Here's a coincidence!--as Bill said when he was hanged 'pon his birthday."
"I have not met her yet, and until now have avoided the chance. But now I am curious to see her--"
"Don't 'ee, sir."
"And to-night intended writing."
"Don't 'ee, sir; don't 'ee."
"To ask for an interview, Caleb," pursued Mr. Fogo, drawing himself up suddenly, while his eyes fairly gleamed behind his spectacles. "Here I am, my past wrecked and all its cargo of ambitions scattered on the sands, and yet--and yet I feel tonight that I could thank that woman. Do you understand?"
"I reckon I do," said Caleb, rising heavily and making for the door.
He stopped with his hand on the door, and turning, observed his master for a minute or so without remark. At last he said abruptly--
"Pleasant dreams to 'ee, sir: an' two knacks 'pon the floor ef I be wanted. Good-night, sir." And with this he was gone.
Mr. Fogo stood for some moments listening to his footsteps as they shuffled down the stairs. Then with a sigh he turned to his writing-case, pulled a straw-bottomed chair before the rickety table, and sat for a while, pen in hand, pondering.
Before he had finished, his candle was low in its socket, and the floor around him littered with scraps of torn paper. He sealed the envelope, blew out the candle, and stepped to the window.
"I wonder if she has changed," he said to himself.
Outside, the summer moon had risen above the hill facing him, and the near half of the creek was ablaze with silver. The old schooner still lay in shadow, but the water rushing from her hold kept a perpetual music. Other sounds there were none but the soft rustling of the swallows in the eaves overhead, the sucking of the tide upon the beach below, and the whisper of night among the elms. The air was heavy with the fragrance of climbing roses and all the scents of the garden. In such an hour Nature is half sad and wholly tender.
Mr. Fogo lit a pipe, and, watching its fumes as they curled out upon the laden night, fell into a kingly melancholy. He dwelt on his past, but without resentment; on Tamsin, but with less trouble of heart. After all, what did it matter? Mr. Fogo, leaning forward on the window-seat, came to a conclusion to which others have been led before him--that life is a small thing. Oddly enough, this discovery, though it belittled his fellowmen considerably, did not belittle the thinker at all, or rather affected him with a very sublime humility.
"When one thinks," said he, "that the moon will probably rise ten million times over the hill yonder on such a night as this, it strikes one that woman-hating is petty, not to say a trifle fatuous."
He puffed awhile in silence, and then went on--
"The strange part of it is, that the argument does not seem to affect Tamsin as much as I should have fancied."
He paused for a moment, and added:
"Or to prove as conclusively as I should expect that I am a fool. Possibly if I see Geraldine to-morrow, she will prove it more satis--"
He broke off to clutch the lattice, and stare with rigid eyes across the creek.
For the moon was by this time high enough to fling a ray upon the deserted hull: and there--upon the deck--stood a figure--the figure of a woman.
She was motionless, and leant against the bulwarks, with her face towards him, but in black shadow. A dark hood covered her head; but the cloak was flung back, and revealed just a gleam of white where her bosom and shoulders bent forward over the schooner's side.
Mr. Fogo's heart gave a leap, stood still, and then fell to beating with frantic speed. He craned out at the window, straining his eyes. At the same moment the pipe dropped from his lips and tumbled, scattering a shower of sparks, into the rose-bush below.
When he looked up again the woman had disappeared.
Suddenly he remembered Caleb's story of the girl who, ages back, had left her home to live among the lepers in this very house, perhaps in the very room he occupied; and of the ghost that haunted the burial ground below. Mr. Fogo was not without courage; but the recollection brought a feeling of so many spiders creeping up his spine.
And yet the whole tale was so unlikely that, by degrees, as he gazed at the wreck, now completely bathed in moonlight, he began to persuade himself that his eyes had played him a trick.
"I will go to bed," he muttered; "I have been upset lately, and these fits of mine may well pass into hallucination. Once think of these women and--"
He stopped as if shot. From behind the wreck a small boat shot out into the moon's brilliance. Two figures sat in it, a woman and a man; and as the boat dropped swiftly down on the ebb he had time to notice that both were heavily muffled about the face. This was all he could see, for in a moment they had passed into the gloom, and the next the angle of the house hid them from view; but he could still hear the plash of their oars above the sounds of the night.
"The leper and his sweetheart," was Mr. Fogo's first thought. But then followed the reflection--would ghostly oars sound? On the whole, he decided against the supernatural. But the mystery remained. More curious than agitated, but nevertheless with little inclination to resume his communing with the night, Mr. Fogo sought his hammock and fell asleep.
The sun was high when he awoke, and as he descended to breakfast he heard Caleb's mallet already at work on the quay below. Still, anxious to set his doubts at rest, he made a hasty meal, and walked down to take a second opinion on the vision.
Caleb, with his back towards the house, was busily fitting a new thwart into Mr. Fogo's boat, and singing with extreme gaiety--
"Oh, where be the French dogs? Oh! where be they, O? They be down i' their long-boats, All on the salt say, O!"
What with the song and the hammering, he did not hear his master's approach.
"Up flies the kite, An' down flies the lark, O! Wi' hale an' tow, rumbleow--"
"Aw, mornin' to 'ee, sir. You took me unawares--
"All for to fetch home, The summer an' the May, O! For summer is a-come, An' winter es a-go.'"
"Caleb, I have seen a ghost."
The mallet stopped in mid-descent. Caleb looked up again open-mouthed.
"Tom Twist and Harry Dingle!"
"I beg your pardon?"
"Figger o' speech, sir, meanin' 'Who'd ha' thought et?' Whose ghost, sir, ef 'taint a rude question?"
Mr. Fogo told his story.
At its conclusion, Caleb laid down his mallet and whistled.
"'Tes the leppards, sure 'nuff, a-ha'ntin' o' th' ould place. Scriptur' says they will not change their spots, an' I'm blest ef et don't say truth. But deary me, sir, an' axin' your pardon for sayin' so, you'm a game-cock, an' no mistake."
"Iss, sir. Two knacks 'pon the floor, an' I'd ha' been up in a jiffey. But niver mind, sir, us'll wait up for mun to-night, an' I'll get the loan o' the Dearlove's blunderbust in case they gets pol-rumptious."
Mr. Fogo deprecated the blunderbuss, but agreed to sit up for the ghost; and so for the time the matter dropped. But Caleb's eyes followed his master admiringly for the rest of the day, and more than once he had to express his feelings in vigorous soliloquy.
"Niver tell me! Looks as ef he'd no more pluck nor a field-mouse; an' I'm darned ef he takes more 'count of a ghost than he wud of a circuit-preacher. Blest ef I don't think ef a sperrit was to knack at the front door, he'd tell 'un to wipe hes feet 'pon the mat, an' make hissel' at home. Well, well, seein's believin', as Tommy said when he spied Noah's Ark i' the peep-show."
 I cannot forbear to add a note on this eminently Trojan word. In the fifteenth century, so high was the spirit of the Trojan sea-captains, and so heavy the toll of black-mail they levied on ships of other ports, that King Edward IV sent poursuivant after poursuivant to threaten his displeasure. The messengers had their ears slit for their pains; and "poursuivanting" or "pussivanting" survives as a term for ineffective bustle.
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