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HOW AN ABSENT-MINDED MAN, THAT HATED WOMEN, TOOK A HOUSE BY THE WATER-SIDE, AND LIVED THEREIN WITH ONE SERVANT.
"Well, sir," said Caleb Trotter, when the boat was pushed off, "what do 'ee think of 'em?"
Mr. Fogo, whose wits had been wool-gathering, came to himself with a start. "I think they are very good people."
"You may say that! The likes o' those Twins you won't see again, not ef you live to be a hundred. Seems to me," he went on reflectively, "that Natur', when she turned out the fust, got so pleased wi' herself that she was bound to try her hand at a dooplicity, just to relieve her feelin's."
"A dooplicity, sir, otherwise another of the same identical."
"Oh, I see."
"Iss, sir. 'Tes like that rhyme about the Force o' Natur' what cudn' no furder go, and you can't do 't agen, not ef you try all you know."
"You are fond of poetry, I see," said Mr. Fogo, with a smile.
"Puffec'ly dotes on et, sir."
"Have you ever composed any yourself?"
"Once 'pon a time, sir," said Caleb, pausing in his work, and leaning forward very mysteriously. "Ef you cares to hear, I don't mind tellin' 'ee; on'y you must gi' me your Davy you won't let et out to nobody."
Mr. Fogo gave the required promise.
"Well, 'twas in this way. Once 'pon a time, me an' old Joe Bonaday was workin' a smack round from Bristol. The Betsy Ann was her name, No. 1077 o' Troy. Joe was skipper, an' me mate; there was a boy aboard for crew, but he don't count. Well us got off Ilfrycombe one a'ternoon--August month et was, an' pipin' hot--when my blessed parlyment, says Molly Franky--"
"Who was she?"
"Another figger o' speech, sir, that's all. Well, as I was a-sayin', on a sudden, lo and be'old! the breeze drops dead. Ef you'll believe me, sir, 'twas calm as the Sar'gossa Sea. So there we was stuck--the sail not so much as flappin'--for the best part o' two hour; at the end o' which time (Joe not bein' a convussational man beyond sayin' 'thankye' when he got hes vittles) I was gettin' a bit dumb-foundered for topicks to talk 'pon. 'Cos, as for the weather, there 'twas, an', as Joe remarked, 'twasn' going to move any more for our discussin' of et, nor yet cussin' for that matter."
"Well, sir, we was driven at last to singin' a hymn to keep our speerits up. Leastways, the boy an' me sang, an' Joe beat time. Then says Joe, 'Look 'ere, I'm a-goin' to allee-couchee ef et lasts like this.' 'Well,' I says, for I was gettin' desprit, 'have 'ee ever tried to make poetry?' 'No,' says he, 'can't say I have.' 'Well,' I says, 'I've oft'n wanted to. Let's ha' a shy. You go aft and think of a verse, an' I'll go forra'd an' make another, an' then us'll see which sounds best.' 'Done,' says he, an' off he goes.
"Well, I sits there for mor'n an hour, thinkin' hard, and terrable work I found et. At last Joe shouts across, 'Hav'ee done? Time's up'; and I told 'un I'd done purty middlin'. So us stepped amidships, and spoke out what us had made."
Caleb made a long pause.
"I should like to hear the verses, if you remember them," said Mr. Fogo.
"Should 'ee now?" Caleb asked with fine modesty. "Well, I don't mind, on'y you mus'n' expect 'em to be like Maister Moggridge's. Mine went thicky way." He recited very slowly, with a terrific rolling of syllables:--
"See her glidin' dro' the water, Far, far away! Many a true heart's niver to be found.
"The last line alludes to my gal wot had recently e-loped wi' the Rooshan," Caleb explained.
"Was that all?"
"That was all o' mine, sir, but Joe's was p'ints better. Just listen:--"
"Fare thee well, Barnstaple steeple,--"
"(He was a Barnstaple man, sir, was Joe)--"
"Fare thee well, I say, Never shall I see thee, once agen, a long time ago."
"Well, sir, we was just a-goin' to step back an' have another shy, when the breeze sprang up a'most as sudden as et fell, and the consikence es, sir, that I've niver made no more poetry from that day to this."
The sun was getting low, as Mr. Fogo and Caleb stepped ashore on the ruined quay at Kit's House, not far from the spit of land where the lazars were buried. Kit's Cottage stood plain to see at a short distance from the water, but Kit's House lay to the right, behind its screen of laurels and elms. A narrow flight of steps and a path along the cliff's edge brought the visitors to the front door.
It was a long, low house, with pointed windows on the upper storey, and a deep verandah shading the ground-floor rooms. It faced the south, and although few flowers were out, the ruined garden was luxuriant with decay. One could see where the old Lazar-house had been overlaid with the taste of more recent inhabitants, but, as Caleb said, no one had lived here now for a dozen years or more. The walls were smeared with green vegetation; the iron gate creaked heavily with rust. On the roof the stonecrop flourished, and the swallows had built their nests about the chimneys.
Indoors it was as bad. Rich papers hung and rotted from the walls; rats scampered about the floors overhead; a smell of damp and mouldiness pervaded every room.
"Deary me, sir!" said Caleb in despair, "I'd no idee 'twas as bad as this, or I wou'dn' have mentioned the place to 'ee."
An old barrel stood on end before the French-window of the drawing-room. Mr. Fogo seated himself on this, and gazed meditatively out on the mellow glory of the evening.
"Caleb," he said very quietly, after a while, "I think I shall take this house."
"You will, sir?"
"I fancy there will be no difficulty in arranging about the rent. And now I want to speak with you on another question. You are a single man, you say. Have you any employment?"
"Why, sir, I mostly picks up my livin' on the say, on'y I thought as how I'd like a spell ashore for a change; but the end o' that you saw for yourself this very a'ternoon."
"Do you think that for a pound a week you could look after me?"
"I'd like the chance."
"That would exclude your food and clothes."
Caleb hesitated for a moment, and then said, with Trojan independence--
"You beant' a-goin' to rig me out in a yaller weskit an' small-clothes wi' a stripe down the leg, by any chance?"
"I was proposing that you should dress exactly as you do at present."
"Then done wi' you, sir, an' thank 'ee. When be I to enter on my dooties?"
"An' where, sir?"
"Be you a-goin' to sleep the night in this moloncholy place?"
"Very well, sir. Please yoursel', as Dick said to the press-gang. An' what be I to do fust?"
Mr. Fogo perhaps did not hear the question, for he was gazing out at the falling shadows: when he spoke again it was upon another subject.
"It is right that you should know," said he, "the kind of life you will be wanted to lead. In the first place, I am extraordinarily subject to fits of abstraction--absence of mind, in other words. It is an affection to which my style of life has made me particularly prone: it has led me before now into absurd, and sometimes into dangerous situations.
"I have heard tell," said Caleb, "of an old gentl'm'n as carefully tucked hes umbrella in bed an' put hissel' in the corner. Es that the style o' thing, sir?"
"It is something similar," said his master, "and within certain limits I should expect you to look after me and as far as possible prevent such accidents: however, I shall not, of course, expect you to have more than one pair of eyes. My tastes are simple--I read a little, sketch a little, botanise, dabble in chemistry, am fond of carpentering--boat-building especially. My very absence of mind makes me indifferent to surroundings. In short, I am a mild man."
Mr. Fogo got off his barrel, went to the window, sighed softly, and returned. Something in his manner imposed silence on Caleb.
"We shall live here alone," he resumed. "It is even possible that, to ensure solitude, I shall rent the cottage as well, and install you there. Above all things, remember," with sudden sternness, "that no woman is to come near this house--I shall even expect you to do your utmost to prevent their landing on the quay below. That, I think, is all. I now wish you to row down to the station and get my portmanteau. After that, with this money procure a couple of hammocks, besides provisions and whatever will be necessary for the night, not forgetting soap and candles. To-morrow we will take in further stock."
Caleb was about to make some answer when the garden gate creaked heavily, and Peter Dearlove appeared in the dusk outside the window; so he merely took the money, touched his forelock by way of acknowledging his new employment, and retired. But it was noticeable that once or twice on his way to the boat he had to pull himself up and think a bit. Arrived on the quay, too, he stood for a moment or so beside the boat in profound meditation.
"Come, Caleb Trotter!" he exclaimed, suddenly jumping in and seizing the paddles; "this sort o' thing won't do, nohow. Here you be paid for lookin' arter a gentl'm'n as wanders in hes wits, and fust news es, you be doin' the same yoursel'. 'Tes terribul queer, though," he added, and with that began to row towards town with an energy that set the boat quivering.
When he returned, in less than two hours' time, he found Mr. Fogo with a barrel full of water and the stump of a decayed broom, washing out the back kitchen. The Twin had gone.
"Here we be, sir. Pound o' candles, pound o' tea, two loaves o' bread, knives, forks, two cups, three eggs--one on 'em smashed, in my trowsy pocket--saucepan, kettle, tea-pot, an' a hunk o' cold beef as salt as Lot's wife's elbow. That's the fust load. There's more in the boat, but I must ax'ee to bear a hand wi' thicky portmanty o' youm, 'cos 'tes mortal heavy. I see'd Jan Higgs's wife a-fishin' about two hundred yards from the quay, on my way up, an' warned her to keep her distance. There's a well o' water round at the back, an' I've fetched a small sack o' coal, and ef us don't have a dish o' tay ready in a brace o' shakes, then Tom's killed an' Mary's forlorn."
With the statement of which gloomy alternative Mr. Caleb Trotter broke into a smile of honest pride.
"Caleb," said Mr. Fogo from his hammock in the back kitchen at about eleven o'clock on the same night.
"Aye, aye, sir."
"Are you comfortable?"
"Thank'ee, sir, gettin' on nicely. Just a bit Man-Fridayish to begin wi', but as corrat as Crocker's mare."
"What did you say?"
"Figger o' speech agen, sir, that's all. Good-night, sir."
Mr. Fogo settled himself in his hammock, sighed for a second time and dropped asleep.
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