Mary Anerley, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter XVII

Delicate Inquiries

A genuine summer day pays a visit nearly once in the season to Flamborough; and when it does come, it has a wonderful effect. Often the sun shines brightly there, and often the air broods hot with thunder; but the sun owes his brightness to sweep of the wind, which sweeps away his warmth as well; while, on the other hand, the thunder-clouds, like heavy smoke capping the headland, may oppress the air with heat, but are not of sweet summer’s beauty.

For once, however, the fine day came, and the natives made haste to revile it. Before it was three hours old they had found a hundred and fifty faults with it. Most of the men truly wanted a good sleep, after being lively all the night upon the waves, and the heat and the yellow light came in upon their eyes, and set the flies buzzing all about them. And even the women, who had slept out their time, and talked quietly, like the clock ticking, were vexed with the sun, which kept their kettles from good boiling, and wrote upon their faces the years of their life. But each made allowance for her neighbor’s appearance, on the strength of the troubles she had been through. For the matter of that, the sun cared not the selvage of a shadow what was thought of him, but went his bright way with a scattering of clouds and a tossing of vapors anywhere. Upon the few fishermen who gave up hope of sleep, and came to stand dazed in their doorways, the glare of white walls and chalky stones, and dusty roads, produced the same effect as if they had put on their fathers’ goggles. Therefore they yawned their way back to their room, and poked up the fire, without which, at Flamborough, no hot weather would be half hot enough.

The children, however, were wide-awake, and so were the washer-women, whose turn it had been to sleep last night for the labors of the morning. These were plying hand and tongue in a little field by the three cross-roads, where gaffers and gammers of by-gone time had set up troughs of proven wood, and the bilge of a long storm-beaten boat, near a pool of softish water. Stout brown arms were roped with curd, and wedding rings looked slippery things, and thumb-nails bordered with inveterate black, like broad beans ripe for planting, shone through a hubbub of snowy froth; while sluicing and wringing and rinsing went on over the bubbled and lathery turf; and every handy bush or stub, and every tump of wiry grass, was sheeted with white, like a ship in full sail, and shining in the sun-glare.

From time to time these active women glanced back at their cottages, to see that the hearth was still alive, or at their little daughters squatting under the low wall which kept them from the road, where they had got all the babies to nurse, and their toes and other members to compare, and dandelion chains to make. But from their washing ground the women could not see the hill that brings to the bottom of the village the crooked road from Sewerby. Down that hill came a horseman slowly, with nobody to notice him, though himself on the watch for everybody; and there in the bottom below the first cottage he allowed his horse to turn aside and cool hot feet and leathery lips, in a brown pool spread by Providence for the comfort of wayworn roadsters.

The horse looked as if he had labored far, while his rider was calmly resting; for the cross-felled sutures of his flank were crusted with gray perspiration, and the runnels of his shoulders were dabbled; and now it behooved him to be careful how he sucked the earthy-flavored water, so as to keep time with the heaving of his barrel. In a word, he was drinking as if he would burst — as his hostler at home often told him — but the clever old roadster knew better than that, and timing it well between snorts and coughs, was tightening his girths with deep pleasure.

“Enough, my friend, is as good as a feast,” said his rider to him, gently, yet strongly pulling up the far-stretched head, “and too much is worse than a famine.”

The horse, though he did not belong to this gentleman, but was hired by him only yesterday, had already discovered that, with him on his back, his own judgment must lie dormant, so that he quietly whisked his tail and glanced with regret at the waste of his drip, and then, with a roundabout step, to prolong the pleasure of this little wade, sadly but steadily out he walked, and, after the necessary shake, began his first invasion of the village. His rider said nothing, but kept a sharp look-out.

Now this was Master Geoffrey Mordacks, of the ancient city of York, a general factor and land agent. What a “general factor” is, or is not, none but himself can pretend to say, even in these days of definition, and far less in times when thought was loose; and perhaps Mr. Mordacks would rather have it so. But any one who paid him well could trust him, according to the ancient state of things. To look at him, nobody would even dare to think that money could be a consideration to him, or the name of it other than an insult. So lofty and steadfast his whole appearance was, and he put back his shoulders so manfully. Upright, stiff, and well appointed with a Roman nose, he rode with the seat of a soldier and the decision of a tax-collector. From his long steel spurs to his hard coned hat not a soft line was there, nor a feeble curve. Stern honesty and strict purpose stamped every open piece of him so strictly that a man in a hedge-row fostering devious principles, and resolved to try them, could do no more than run away, and be thankful for the chance of it.

But in those rough and dangerous times, when thousands of people were starving, the view of a pistol-butt went further than sternest aspect of strong eyes. Geoffrey Mordacks well knew this, and did not neglect his knowledge. The brown walnut stock of a heavy pistol shone above either holster, and a cavalry sword in a leathern scabbard hung within easy reach of hand. Altogether this gentleman seemed not one to be rashly attacked by daylight.

No man had ever dreamed as yet of coming to this outlandish place for pleasure of the prospect. So that when this lonely rider was descried from the washing field over the low wall of the lane, the women made up their minds at once that it must be a justice of the peace, or some great rider of the Revenue, on his way to see Dr. Upandown, or at the least a high constable concerned with some great sheep-stealing. Not that any such crime was known in the village itself of Flamborough, which confined its operations to the sea; but in the outer world of land that malady was rife just now, and a Flamborough man, too fond of mutton, had farmed some sheep on the downs, and lost them, which was considered a judgment on him for willfully quitting ancestral ways.

But instead of turning at the corner where the rector was trying to grow some trees, the stranger kept on along the rugged highway, and between the straggling cottages, so that the women rinsed their arms, and turned round to take a good look at him, over the brambles and furze, and the wall of chalky flint and rubble.

“This is just what I wanted,” thought Geoffrey Mordacks: “skill makes luck, and I am always lucky. Now, first of all, to recruit the inner man.”

At this time Mrs. Theophila Precious, generally called “Tapsy,” the widow of a man who had been lost at sea, kept the “Cod with a Hook in his Gills,” the only hostelry in Flamborough village, although there was another toward the Landing. The cod had been painted from life — or death — by a clever old fisherman who understood him, and he looked so firm, and stiff, and hard, that a healthy man, with purse enough to tire of butcher’s-meat, might grow in appetite by gazing. Mr. Mordacks pulled up, and fixed steadfast eyes upon this noble fish, the while a score of sharp eyes from the green and white meadow were fixed steadfastly on him.

“How he shines with salt-water! How firm he looks, and his gills as bright as a rose in June! I have never yet tasted a cod at first hand. It is early in the day, but the air is hungry. My expenses are paid, and I mean to live well, for a strong mind will be required. I will have a cut out of that fish, to begin with.”

Inditing of this, and of matters even better, the rider turned into the yard of the inn, where an old boat (as usual) stood for a horse-trough, and sea-tubs served as buckets. Strong sunshine glared upon the oversaling tiles, and white buckled walls, and cracky lintels; but nothing showed life, except an old yellow cat, and a pair of house-martins, who had scarcely time to breathe, such a number of little heads flipped out with a white flap under the beak of each, demanding momentous victualling. At these the yellow cat winked with dreamy joyfulness, well aware how fat they would be when they came to tumble out.

“What a place of vile laziness!” grumbled Mr. Mordacks, as he got off his horse, after vainly shouting “Hostler!” and led him to the byre, which did duty for a stable. “York is a lazy hole enough, but the further you go from it, the lazier they get. No energy, no movement, no ambition, anywhere. What a country! what a people! I shall have to go back and enlist the washer-women.”

A Yorkshireman might have answered this complaint, if he thought it deserving of an answer, by requesting Master Mordacks not to be so overquick, but to bide a wee bit longer before he made so sure of the vast superiority of his own wit, for the long heads might prove better than the sharp ones in the end of it. However, the general factor thought that he could not have come to a better place to get all that he wanted out of everybody. He put away his saddle, and the saddlebags and sword, in a rough old sea-chest with a padlock to it, and having a sprinkle of chaff at the bottom. Then he calmly took the key, as if the place were his, gave his horse a rackful of long-cut grass, and presented himself, with a lordly aspect, at the front door of the silent inn. Here he made noise enough to stir the dead; and at the conclusion of a reasonable time, during which she had finished a pleasant dream to the simmering of the kitchen pot, the landlady showed herself in the distance, feeling for her keys with one hand, and rubbing her eyes with the other. This was the head-woman of the village, but seldom tyrannical, unless ill-treated, Widow Precious, tall and square, and of no mean capacity.

“Young mon,” with a deep voice she said, “what is tha’ deein’ wi’ aw that clatter?”

“Alas, my dear madam, I am not a young man; and therefore time is more precious to me. I have lived out half my allotted span, and shall never complete it unless I get food.”

“T’ life o’ mon is aw a hoory,” replied Widow Precious, with slow truth. “Young mon, what ‘ll ye hev?”

“Dinner, madam; dinner at the earliest moment. I have ridden far, and my back is sore, and my substance is calling for renewal.”

“Ate, ate, ate, that’s t’ waa of aw menkins. Bud ye maa coom in, and crack o’ it.”

“Madam, you are most hospitable; and the place altogether seems to be of that description. What a beautiful room! May I sit down? I perceive a fine smell of most delicate soup. Ah, you know how to do things at Flamborough.”

“Young mon, ye can ha’ nune of yon potty. Yon’s for mesell and t’ childer.”

“My excellent hostess, mistake me not. I do not aspire to such lofty pot-luck. I simply referred to it as a proof of your admirable culinary powers.”

“Yon’s beeg words. What ‘ll ye hev te ate?”

“A fish like that upon your sign-post, madam, or at least the upper half of him; and three dozen oysters just out of the sea, swimming in their own juice, with lovely melted butter.”

“Young mon, hast tha gotten t’ brass? Them ‘at ates offens forgets t’ reck’nin’.”

“Yes, madam, I have the needful in abundance. Ecce signum! Which is Latin, madam, for the stamps of the king upon twenty guineas. One to be deposited in your fair hand for a taste, for a sniff, madam, such as I had of your pot.”

“Na, na. No tokkins till a’ airned them. What ood your Warship be for ating when a’ boileth?”

The general factor, perceiving his way, was steadfast to the shoulder cut of a decent cod; and though the full season was scarcely yet come, Mrs. Precious knew where to find one. Oysters there were none, but she gave him boiled limpets, and he thought it the manner of the place that made them tough. After these things he had a duck of the noblest and best that live anywhere in England. Such ducks were then, and perhaps are still, the most remarkable residents of Flamborough. Not only because the air is fine, and the puddles and the dabblings of extraordinary merit, and the wind fluffs up their pretty feathers while alive, as the eloquent poulterer by-and-by will do; but because they have really distinguished birth, and adventurous, chivalrous, and bright blue Norman blood. To such purpose do the gay young Vikings of the world of quack pour in (when the weather and the time of year invite), equipped with red boots and plumes of purple velvet, to enchant the coy lady ducks in soft water, and eclipse the familiar and too legal drake. For a while they revel in the change of scene, the luxury of unsalted mud and scarcely rippled water, and the sweetness and culture of tame dilly-ducks, to whom their brilliant bravery, as well as an air of romance and billowy peril, commends them too seductively. The responsible sire of the pond is grieved, sinks his unappreciated bill into his back, and vainly reflects upon the vanity of love.

From a loftier point of view, however, this is a fine provision; and Mr. Mordacks always took a lofty view of everything.

“A beautiful duck, ma’am; a very grand duck!” in his usual loud and masterful tone, he exclaimed to Widow Precious. “I understand your question now as to my ability to pay for him. Madam, he is worth a man’s last shilling. A goose is a smaller and a coarser bird. In what manner do you get them?”

“They gets their own sells, wi’ the will of the Lord. What will your Warship be for ating, come after?”

“None of your puddings and pies, if you please, nor your excellent jellies and custards. A red Dutch cheese, with a pat of fresh butter, and another imperial pint of ale.”

“Now yon is what I call a man,” thought Mrs. Precious, having neither pie nor pudding, as Master Mordacks was well aware; “aisy to please, and a’ knoweth what a’ wants. A’ mought ‘a been born i’ Flaambro. A’ maa baide for a week, if a’ hath the tokkins.”

Mr. Mordacks felt that he had made his footing; but he was not the man to abide for a week where a day would suit his purpose. His rule was never to beat about the bush when he could break through it, and he thought that he saw his way to do so now. Having finished his meal, he set down his knife with a bang, sat upright in the oaken chair, and gazed in a bold yet pleasant manner at the sturdy hostess.

“You are wondering what has brought me here. That I will tell you in a very few words. Whatever I do is straightforward, madam; and all the world may know it. That has been my character throughout life; and in that respect I differ from the great bulk of mankind. You Flamborough folk, however, are much of the very same nature as I am. We ought to get on well together. Times are very bad — very bad indeed. I could put a good trifle of money in your way; but you tell the truth without it, which is very, very noble. Yet people with a family have duties to discharge to them, and must sacrifice their feelings to affection. Fifty guineas is a tidy little figure, ma’am. With the famine growing in the land, no parent should turn his honest back upon fifty guineas. And to get the gold, and do good at the same time, is a very rare chance indeed.”

This speech was too much for Widow Precious to carry to her settled judgment, and get verdict in a breath. She liked it, on the whole, but yet there might be many things upon the other side; so she did what Flamborough generally does, when desirous to consider things, as it generally is. That is to say, she stood with her feet well apart, and her arms akimbo, and her head thrown back to give the hinder part a rest, and no sign of speculation in her eyes, although they certainly were not dull. When these good people are in this frame of mind and body, it is hard to say whether they look more wise or foolish. Mr. Mordacks, impatient as he was, even after so fine a dinner, was not far from catching the infection of slow thought, which spreads itself as pleasantly as that of slow discourse.

“You are heeding me, madam; you have quick wits,” he said, without any sarcasm, for she rescued the time from waste by affording a study of the deepest wisdom; “you are wondering how the money is to come, and whether it brings any risk with it. No, Mistress Precious, not a particle of risk. A little honest speaking is the one thing needed.”

“The money cometh scores of times more freely fra wrong-doing.”

“Your observation, madam, shows a deep acquaintance with the human race. Too often the money does come so; and thus it becomes mere mammon. On such occasions we should wash our hands, and not forget the charities. But the beauty of money, fairly come by, is that we can keep it all. To do good in getting it, and do good with it, and to feel ourselves better in every way, and our dear children happier — this is the true way of considering the question. I saw some pretty little dears peeping in, and wanted to give them a token or two, for I do love superior children. But you called them away, madam. You are too stern.”

Widow Precious had plenty of sharp sense to tell her that her children were by no means “pretty dears” to anybody but herself, and to herself only when in a very soft state of mind; at other times they were but three gew-mouthed lasses, and two looby loons with teeth enough for crunching up the dripping-pan.

“Your Warship spaketh fair,” she said; “a’most too fair, I’m doubting. Wad ye say what the maning is, and what name goeth pledge for the fafty poon, Sir?”

“Mistress Precious, my meaning always is plainer than a pikestaff; and as to pledges, the pledge is the hard cash down upon the nail, ma’am.”

“Bank-tokkins, mayhap, and I prummeese to paa, with the sign of the Dragon, and a woman among sheeps.”

“Madam, a bag of solid gold that can be weighed and counted. Fifty new guineas from the mint of King George, in a water-proof bag just fit to be buried at the foot of a tree, or well under the thatch, or sewn up in the sacking of your bedstead, ma’am. Ah, pretty dreams, what pretty dreams, with a virtuous knowledge of having done the right! Shall we say it is a bargain, ma’am, and wet it with a glass, at my expense, of the crystal spring that comes under the sea?”

“Naw, Sir, naw! — not till I knaw what. I niver trafficks with the divil, Sir. There wur a chap of Flaambro deed —”

“My good madam, I can not stop all day. I have far to ride before night-fall. All that I want is simply this, and having gone so far, I must tell you all, or make an enemy of you. I want to match this; and I have reason to believe that it can be matched in Flamborough. Produce me the fellow, and I pay you fifty guineas.”

With these words Mr. Mordacks took from an inner pocket a little pill-box, and thence produced a globe, or rather an oblate spheroid, of bright gold, rather larger than a musket-ball, but fluted or crenelled like a poppy-head, and stamped or embossed with marks like letters. Widow Precious looked down at it, as if to think what an extraordinary thing it was, but truly to hide from the stranger her surprise at the sudden recognition. For Robin Lyth was a foremost favorite of hers, and most useful to her vocation; and neither fifty guineas nor five hundred should lead her to do him an injury. At a glance she had known that this bead must belong to the set from which Robin’s ear-rings came; and perhaps it was her conscience which helped her to suspect that a trap was being laid for the free-trade hero. To recover herself, and have time to think, as well as for closer discretion, she invited Master Mordacks to the choice guest-chamber.

“Set ye doon, Sir, hereaboot,” she said, opening a solid door into the inner room; “neaver gain no fear at aw o’ crackin’ o’ the setties; fairm, fairm anoo’ they be, thoo sketterish o’ their lukes, Sir. Set ye doon, your Warship; fafty poons desarveth a good room, wi’oot ony lugs o’ anemees.”

“What a beautiful room!” exclaimed Mr. Mordacks; “and how it savors of the place! I never should have thought of finding art and taste of such degree in a little place like Flamborough. Why, madam, you must have inherited it direct from the Danes themselves.”

“Naw, Sir, naw. I fetched it aw oop fra the breck of the say and the cobbles. Book-folk tooneth naw heed o’ what we do.”

“Well, it is worth a great deal of heed. Lovely patterns of sea-weed on the floor — no carpet can compare with them; shelves of — I am sure I don’t know what — fished up from the deep, no doubt; and shells innumerable, and stones that glitter, and fish like glass, and tufts like lace, and birds with most wonderful things in their mouths: Mistress Precious, you are too bad. The whole of it ought to go to London, where they make collections!”

“Lor, Sir, how ye da be laffin’ at me. But purty maa be said of ’em wi’out ony lees.”

The landlady smiled as she set for him a chair, toward which he trod gingerly, and picking every step, for his own sake as well as of the garniture. For the black oak floor was so oiled and polished, to set off the pattern of the sea-flowers on it (which really were laid with no mean taste and no small sense of color), that for slippery boots there was some peril.

“This is a sacred as well as beautiful place,” said Mr. Mordacks. “I may finish my words with safety here. Madam, I commend your prudence as well as your excellent skill and industry. I should like to bring my daughter Arabella here: what a lesson she would gain for tapestry! But now, again, for business. What do you say? Unless I am mistaken, you have some knowledge of the matter depending on this bauble. You must not suppose that I came to you at random. No, madam, no; I have heard far away of your great intelligence, caution, and skill, and influence in this important town. ‘Mistress Precious is the Mayor of Flamborough,’ was said to me only last Saturday; ‘if you would study the wise people there, hang up your hat in her noble hostelry.’ Madam, I have taken that advice, and heartily rejoice at doing so. I am a man of few words, very few words — as you must have seen already — but of the strictest straightforwardness in deeds. And now again, what do you say, ma’am?”

“Your Warship hath left ma nowt to saa. Your Warship hath had the mooth aw to yosell.”

“Now Mistress, Mistress Precious, truly that is a little too bad of you. It is out of my power to help admiring things which are utterly beyond me to describe, and a dinner of such cooking may enlarge the tongue, after all the fine things it has been rolling in. But business is my motto, in the fewest words that may be. You know what I want; you will keep it to yourself, otherwise other people might demand the money. Through very simple channels you will find out whether the fellow thing to this can be found here or elsewhere; and if so, who has got it, and how it was come by, and everything else that can be learned about it; and when you know all, you just make a mark on this piece of paper, ready folded and addressed; and then you will seal it, and give it to the man who calls for the letters nearly twice a week. And when I get that, I come and eat another duck, and have oysters with my cod-fish, which today we could not have, except in the form of mussels, ma’am.”

“Naw, not a moosel — they was aw gude flithers.”

“Well, ma’am, they may have been unknown animals; but good they were, and as fresh as the day. Now, you will remember that my desire is to do good. I have nothing to do with the revenue, nor the magistrates, nor his Majesty. I shall not even go to your parson, who is the chief authority, I am told; for I wish this matter to be kept quiet, and beside the law altogether. The whole credit of it shall belong to you, and a truly good action you will have performed, and done a little good for your own good self. As for this trinket, I do not leave it with you, but I leave you this model in wax, ma’am, made by my daughter, who is very clever. From this you can judge quite as well as from the other. If there are any more of these things in Flamborough, as I have strong reason to believe, you will know best where to find them, and I need not tell you that they are almost certain to be in the possession of a woman. You know all the women, and you skillfully inquire, without even letting them suspect it. Now I shall just stretch my legs a little, and look at your noble prospect, and in three hours’ time a little more refreshment, and then, Mistress Precious, you see the last of your obedient servant, until you demand from him fifty gold guineas.”

After seeing to his horse again, he set forth for a stroll, in the course of which he met with Dr. Upround and his daughter. The rector looked hard at this distinguished stranger, as if he desired to know his name, and expected to be accosted by him, while quick Miss Janetta glanced with undisguised suspicion, and asked her father, so that Mr. Mordacks overheard it, what business such a man could have, and what could he come spying after, in their quiet parish? The general factor raised his hat, and passed on with a tranquil smile, taking the crooked path which leads along and around the cliffs, by way of the light-house, from the north to the southern landing. The present light-house was not yet built, but an old round tower, which still exists, had long been used as a signal station, for semaphore by day, and at night for beacon, in the times of war and tumult; and most people called it the “Monument.” This station was now of very small importance, and sometimes did nothing for a year together; but still it was very good and useful, because it enabled an ancient tar, whose feet had been carried away by a cannon-ball, to draw a little money once a month, and to think himself still a fine British bulwark.

In the summer-time this hero always slung his hammock here, with plenty of wind to rock him off to sleep, but in winter King AEolus himself could not have borne it. “Monument Joe,” as almost everybody called him, was a queer old character of days gone by. Sturdy and silent, but as honest as the sun, he made his rounds as regularly as that great orb, and with equally beneficent object. For twice a day he stumped to fetch his beer from Widow Precious, and the third time to get his little pannikin of grog. And now the time was growing for that last important duty, when a stranger stood before him with a crown piece in his hand.

“Now don’t get up, captain, don’t disturb yourself,” said Mr. Mordacks, graciously; “your country has claimed your activity, I see, and I hope it makes amends to you. At the same time I know that it very seldom does. Accept this little tribute from the admiration of a friend.”

Old Joe took the silver piece and rung it on his tin tobacco-box, then stowed it inside, and said, “Gammon! What d’ye want of me?”

“Your manners, my good Sir, are scarcely on a par with your merits. I bribe no man; it is the last thing I would ever dream of doing. But whenever a question of memory arises, I have often observed a great failure of that power without — without, if you will excuse the expression, the administration of a little grease.”

“Smooggling? Aught about smooggling?” Old Joe shut his mouth sternly; for he hated and scorned the coast-guards, whose wages were shamefully above his own, and who had the impudence to order him for signals; while, on the other hand, he found free trade a policy liberal, enlightening, and inspiriting.

“No, captain, no; not a syllable of that. You have been in this place about sixteen years. If you had only been here four years more, your evidence would have settled all I want to know. No wreck can take place here, of course, without your knowledge?”

“Dunno that. B’lieve one have. There’s a twist of the tide here — but what good to tell landlubbers?”

“You are right. I should never understand such things. But I find them wonderfully interesting. You are not a native of this place, and knew nothing of Flamborough before you came here?”

Monument Joe gave a grunt at this, and a long squirt of tobacco juice. “And don’t want,” he said.

“Of course, you are superior, in every way superior. You find these people rough, and far inferior in manners. But either, my good friend, you will re-open your tobacco-box, or else you will answer me a few short questions, which trespass in no way upon your duty to the king, or to his loyal smugglers.”

Old Joe looked up, with weather-beaten eyes, and saw that he had no fool to deal with, in spite of all soft palaver. The intensity of Mr. Mordacks’s eyes made him blink, and mutter a bad word or two, but remain pretty much at his service. And the last intention he could entertain was that of restoring this fine crown piece. “Spake on, Sir,” he said; “and I will spake accordin’.”

“Very good. I shall give you very little trouble. I wish to know whether there was any wreck here, kept quiet perhaps, but still some ship lost, about three or four years before you came to this station. It does not matter what ship, any ship at all, which may have gone down without any fuss at all. You know of none such? Very well. You were not here; and the people of this place are wonderfully close. But a veteran of the Royal Navy should know how to deal with them. Make your inquiries without seeming to inquire. The question is altogether private, and can not in any way bring you into trouble. Whereas, if you find out anything, you will be a made man, and live like a gentleman. You hate the lawyers? All the honest seamen do. I am not a lawyer, and my object is to fire a broadside into them. Accept this guinea; and if it would suit you to have one every week for the rest of your life, I will pledge you my word for it, paid in advance, if you only find out for me one little fact, of which I have no doubt whatever, that a merchant ship was cast away near this Head just about nineteen years agone.”

That ancient sailor was accustomed to surprises; but this, as he said, when he came to think of it, made a clean sweep of him, fore and aft. Nevertheless, he had the presence of mind required for pocketing the guinea, which was too good for his tobacco-box; and as one thing at a time was quite enough upon his mind, he probed away slowly, to be sure there was no hole. Then he got up from his squatting form, with the usual activity of those who are supposed to have none left, and touched his brown hat, standing cleverly. “What be I to do for all this?” he asked.

“Nothing more than what I have told you. To find out slowly, and without saying why, in the way you sailors know how to do, whether such a thing came to pass, as I suppose. You must not be stopped by the lies of anybody. Of course they will deny it, if they got some of the wrecking; or it is just possible that no one even heard of it; and yet there may be some traces. Put two and two together, my good friend, as you have the very best chance of doing; and soon you may put two to that in your pocket, and twenty, and a hundred, and as much as you can hold.”

“When shall I see your good honor again, to score log-run, and come to a reckoning?”

“Master Joseph, work a wary course. Your rating for life will depend upon that. You may come to this address, if you have anything important. Otherwise you shall soon hear of me again. Good-by.”

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31