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The Captain of the Polestar by Arthur Conan Doyle

Part 3 out of 5

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needful, Muller."

The shorter man fumbled in his pocket for some time, and then
produced a small paper packet. He opened this, and took out of it
half a handful of whitish granules, which he poured down through
the hole. A curious clicking noise followed from the inside of the
box, and both the men smiled in a satisfied way.

"Nothing much wrong there," said Flannigan.

"Right as a trivet," answered his companion.

"Look out! here's some one coming. Take it down to our berth. It
wouldn't do to have any one suspecting what our game is, or, worse
still, have them fumbling with it, and letting it off by mistake."

"Well, it would come to the same, whoever let it off," said Muller.

"They'd be rather astonished if they pulled the trigger," said the
taller, with a sinister laugh. "Ha, ha! fancy their faces! It's
not a bad bit of workmanship, I flatter myself."

"No," said Muller. "I hear it is your own design, every bit of it,
isn't it?"

"Yes, the spring and the sliding shutter are my own."

"We should take out a patent."

And the two men laughed again with a cold harsh laugh, as they took
up the little brass-bound package, and concealed it in Muller's
voluminous overcoat.

"Come down, and we'll stow it in our berth," said Flannigan. "We
won't need it until to-night, and it will be safe there."

His companion assented, and the two went arm-in-arm along the deck
and disappeared down the hatchway, bearing the mysterious little
box away with them. The last words I heard were a muttered
injunction from Flannigan to carry it carefully, and avoid knocking
it against the bulwarks.

How long I remained sitting on that coil of rope I shall never
know. The horror of the conversation I had just overheard was
aggravated by the first sinking qualms of sea-sickness. The long
roll of the Atlantic was beginning to assert itself over both ship
and passengers. I felt prostrated in mind and in body, and fell
into a state of collapse, from which I was finally aroused by the
hearty voice of our worthy quartermaster.

"Do you mind moving out of that, sir?" he said. "We want to get
this lumber cleared off the deck."

His bluff manner and ruddy healthy face seemed to be a positive
insult to me in my present condition. Had I been a courageous or
a muscular man I could have struck him. As it was, I treated the
honest sailor to a melodramatic scowl which seemed to cause him no
small astonishment, and strode past him to the other side of
the deck. Solitude was what I wanted--solitude in which I could
brood over the frightful crime which was being hatched before my
very eyes. One of the quarter-boats was hanging rather low down
upon the davits. An idea struck me, and climbing on the bulwarks,
I stepped into the empty boat and lay down in the bottom of it.
Stretched on my back, with nothing but the blue sky above me, and
an occasional view of the mizen as the vessel rolled, I was at
least alone with my sickness and my thoughts.

I tried to recall the words which had been spoken in the terrible
dialogue I had overheard. Would they admit of any construction but
the one which stared me in the face? My reason forced me to
confess that they would not. I endeavoured to array the various
facts which formed the chain of circumstantial evidence, and to
find a flaw in it; but no, not a link was missing. There was the
strange way in which our passengers had come aboard, enabling them
to evade any examination of their luggage. The very name of
"Flannigan" smacked of Fenianism, while "Muller" suggested nothing
but socialism and murder. Then their mysterious manner; their
remark that their plans would have been ruined had they missed the
ship; their fear of being observed; last, but not least, the
clenching evidence in the production of the little square box with
the trigger, and their grim joke about the face of the man who
should let it off by mistake--could these facts lead to any
conclusion other than that they were the desperate emissaries of
some body, political or otherwise, who intended to sacrifice
themselves, their fellow-passengers, and the ship, in one great
holocaust? The whitish granules which I had seen one of them pour
into the box formed no doubt a fuse or train for exploding it. I
had myself heard a sound come from it which might have emanated
from some delicate piece of machinery. But what did they mean by
their allusion to to-night? Could it be that they contemplated
putting their horrible design into execution on the very first
evening of our voyage? The mere thought of it sent a cold shudder
over me, and made me for a moment superior even to the agonies of

I have remarked that I am a physical coward. I am a moral one
also. It is seldom that the two defects are united to such a
degree in the one character. I have known many men who were most
sensitive to bodily danger, and yet were distinguished for the
independence and strength of their minds. In my own case, however,
I regret to say that my quiet and retiring habits had fostered a
nervous dread of doing anything remarkable or making myself
conspicuous, which exceeded, if possible, my fear of personal
peril. An ordinary mortal placed under the circumstances in which
I now found myself would have gone at once to the Captain,
confessed his fears, and put the matter into his hands. To me,
however, constituted as I am, the idea was most repugnant. The
thought of becoming the observed of all observers, cross-questioned
by a stranger, and confronted with two desperate conspirators in
the character of a denouncer, was hateful to me. Might it not
by some remote possibility prove that I was mistaken? What would
be my feelings if there should turn out to be no grounds for my
accusation? No, I would procrastinate; I would keep my eye on the
two desperadoes and dog them at every turn. Anything was better
than the possibility of being wrong.

Then it struck me that even at that moment some new phase of the
conspiracy might be developing itself. The nervous excitement
seemed to have driven away my incipient attack of sickness, for I
was able to stand up and lower myself from the boat without
experiencing any return of it. I staggered along the deck with the
intention of descending into the cabin and finding how my
acquaintances of the morning were occupying themselves. Just as I
had my hand on the companion-rail, I was astonished by receiving a
hearty slap on the back, which nearly shot me down the steps with
more haste than dignity.

"Is that you, Hammond?" said a voice which I seemed to recognise.

"God bless me," I said, as I turned round, "it can't be Dick
Merton! Why, how are you, old man?"

This was an unexpected piece of luck in the midst of my
perplexities. Dick was just the man I wanted; kindly and shrewd in
his nature, and prompt in his actions, I should have no difficulty
in telling him my suspicions, and could rely upon his sound sense
to point out the best course to pursue. Since I was a little lad
in the second form at Harrow, Dick had been my adviser and
protector. He saw at a glance that something had gone wrong with

"Hullo!" he said, in his kindly way, "what's put you about,
Hammond? You look as white as a sheet. Mal de mer, eh?"

"No, not that altogether," said I. "Walk up and down with me,
Dick; I want to speak to you. Give me your arm."

Supporting myself on Dick's stalwart frame, I tottered along by his
side; but it was some time before I could muster resolution to

"Have a cigar," said he, breaking the silence.

"No, thanks," said I. "Dick, we shall be all corpses to-night."

"That's no reason against your having a cigar now," said Dick, in
his cool way, but looking hard at me from under his shaggy eyebrows
as he spoke. He evidently thought that my intellect was a little

"No," I continued, "it's no laughing matter; and I speak in sober
earnest, I assure you. I have discovered an infamous conspiracy,
Dick, to destroy this ship and every soul that is in her; "and I
then proceeded systematically, and in order, to lay before him the
chain of evidence which I had collected. "There, Dick," I said, as
I concluded, "what do you think of that? and, above all, what am I
to do?"

To my astonishment he burst into a hearty fit of laughter.

"I'd be frightened," he said, "if any fellow but you had told me as
much. You always had a way, Hammond, of discovering mares'
nests. I like to see the old traits breaking out again. Do you
remember at school how you swore there was a ghost in the long
room, and how it turned out to be your own reflection in the
mirror. Why, man," he continued, "what object would any one have
in destroying this ship? We have no great political guns aboard.
On the contrary, the majority of the passengers are Americans.
Besides, in this sober nineteenth century, the most wholesale
murderers stop at including themselves among their victims. Depend
upon it, you have misunderstood them, and have mistaken a
photographic camera, or something equally innocent, for an infernal

"Nothing of the sort, sir," said I, rather touchily "You will learn
to your cost, I fear, that I have neither exaggerated nor
misinterpreted a word. As to the box, I have certainly never
before seen one like it. It contained delicate machinery; of that
I am convinced, from the way in which the men handled it and spoke
of it."

"You'd make out every packet of perishable goods to be a torpedo,"
said Dick, "if that is to be your only test."

"The man's name was Flannigan," I continued.

"I don't think that would go very far in a court of law," said
Dick; "but come, I have finished my cigar. Suppose we go down
together and split a bottle of claret. You can point out these two
Orsinis to me if they are still in the cabin."

"All right," I answered; "I am determined not to lose sight of
them all day. Don't look hard at them, though, for I don't want
them to think that they are being watched."

"Trust me," said Dick; "I'll look as unconscious and guileless as
a lamb;" and with that we passed down the companion and into the

A good many passengers were scattered about the great central
table, some wrestling with refractory carpet bags and rug-straps,
some having their luncheon, and a few reading and otherwise amusing
themselves. The objects of our quest were not there. We passed
down the room and peered into every berth, but there was no sign of
them. "Heavens!" thought I, "perhaps at this very moment they are
beneath our feet, in the hold or engine-room, preparing their
diabolical contrivance!" It was better to know the worst than to
remain in such suspense.

"Steward," said Dick, "are there any other gentlemen about?"

"There's two in the smoking-room, sir," answered the steward.

The smoking-room was a little snuggery, luxuriously fitted up, and
adjoining the pantry. We pushed the door open and entered. A sigh
of relief escaped from my bosom. The very first object on which my
eye rested was the cadaverous face of Flannigan, with its hard-set
mouth and unwinking eye. His companion sat opposite to him. They
were both drinking, and a pile of cards lay upon the table. They
were engaged in playing as we entered. I nudged Dick to show him
that we had found our quarry, and we sat down beside them with
as unconcerned an air as possible. The two conspirators seemed to
take little notice of our presence. I watched them both narrowly.
The game at which they were playing was "Napoleon." Both were
adepts at it, and I could not help admiring the consummate nerve of
men who, with such a secret at their hearts, could devote their
minds to the manipulating of a long suit or the finessing of a
queen. Money changed hands rapidly; but the run of luck seemed to
be all against the taller of the two players. At last he threw
down his cards on the table with an oath, and refused to go on.

"No, I'm hanged if I do," he said; "I haven't had more than two of
a suit for five hands."

"Never mind," said his comrade, as he gathered up his winnings; "a
few dollars one way or the other won't go very far after to-night's

I was astonished at the rascal's audacity, but took care to keep my
eyes fixed abstractedly upon the ceiling, and drank my wine in as
unconscious a manner as possible. I felt that Flannigan was
looking towards me with his wolfish eyes to see if I had noticed
the allusion. He whispered something to his companion which I
failed to catch. It was a caution, I suppose, for the other
answered rather angrily--

"Nonsense! Why shouldn't I say what I like? Over-caution is just
what would ruin us."

"I believe you want it not to come off," said Flannigan.

"You believe nothing of the sort," said the other, speaking rapidly
and loudly. "You know as well as I do that when I play for a stake
I like to win it. But I won't have my words criticised and cut
short by you or any other man. I have as much interest in our
success as you have--more, I hope."

He was quite hot about it, and puffed furiously at his cigar for
some minutes. The eyes of the other ruffian wandered alternately
from Dick Merton to myself. I knew that I was in the presence of
a desperate man, that a quiver of my lip might be the signal for
him to plunge a weapon into my heart, but I betrayed more self-
command than I should have given myself credit for under such
trying circumstances. As to Dick, he was as immovable and
apparently as unconscious as the Egyptian Sphinx.

There was silence for some time in the smoking-room, broken only by
the crisp rattle of the cards, as the man Muller shuffled them up
before replacing them in his pocket. He still seemed to be
somewhat flushed and irritable. Throwing the end of his cigar into
the spittoon, he glanced defiantly at his companion and turned
towards me.

"Can you tell me, sir," he said, "when this ship will be heard of

They were both looking at me; but though my face may have turned a
trifle paler, my voice was as steady as ever as I answered--

"I presume, sir, that it will be heard of first when it enters
Queenstown Harbour."

"Ha, ha!" laughed the angry little man, "I knew you would say that.
Don't you kick me under the table, Flannigan, I won't stand it. I
know what I am doing. You are wrong, sir," he continued, turning
to me, "utterly wrong."

"Some passing ship, perhaps," suggested Dick.

"No, nor that either."

"The weather is fine," I said; "why should we not be heard of at
our destination."

"I didn't say we shouldn't be heard of at our destination.
Possibly we may not, and in any case that is not where we shall be
heard of first."

"Where then?" asked Dick.

"That you shall never know. Suffice it that a rapid and mysterious
agency will signal our whereabouts, and that before the day is out.
Ha, ha!" and he chuckled once again.

"Come on deck!" growled his comrade; "you have drunk too much of
that confounded brandy-and-water. It has loosened your tongue.
Come away!" and taking him by the arm he half led him, half forced
him out of the smoking-room, and we heard them stumbling up the
companion together, and on to the deck.

"Well, what do you think now?" I gasped, as I turned towards Dick.
He was as imperturbable as ever.

"Think!" he said; "why, I think what his companion thinks, that we
have been listening to the ravings of a half-drunken man. The
fellow stunk of brandy."

"Nonsense, Dick I you saw how the other tried to stop his tongue."

"Of course he did. He didn't want his friend to make a fool of
himself before strangers. Maybe the short one is a lunatic, and
the other his private keeper. It's quite possible."

"O Dick, Dick," I cried, "how can you be so blind! Don't you see
that every word confirmed our previous suspicion?"

"Humbug, man!" said Dick; "you're working yourself into a state of
nervous excitement. Why, what the devil do you make of all that
nonsense about a mysterious agent which would signal our

"I'll tell you what he meant, Dick," I said, bending forward and
grasping my friend's arm. "He meant a sudden glare and a flash
seen far out at sea by some lonely fisherman off the American
coast. That's what he meant."

"I didn't think you were such a fool, Hammond," said Dick Merton
testily. "If you try to fix a literal meaning on the twaddle that
every drunken man talks, you will come to some queer conclusions.
Let us follow their example, and go on deck. You need fresh air,
I think. Depend upon it, your liver is out of order. A sea-voyage
will do you a world of good."

"If ever I see the end of this one," I groaned, "I'll promise never
to venture on another. They are laying the cloth, so it's hardly
worth while my going up. I'll stay below and unpack my things."

"I hope dinner will find you in a more pleasant state of mind,"
said Dick; and he went out, leaving me to my thoughts until the
clang of the great gong summoned us to the saloon.

My appetite, I need hardly say, had not been improved by the
incidents which had occurred during the day. I sat down, however,
mechanically at the table, and listened to the talk which was going
on around me. There were nearly a hundred first-class passengers,
and as the wine began to circulate, their voices combined with the
clash of the dishes to form a perfect Babel. I found myself seated
between a very stout and nervous old lady and a prim little
clergyman; and as neither made any advances I retired into my
shell, and spent my time in observing the appearance of my fellow-
voyagers. I could see Dick in the dim distance dividing his
attentions between a jointless fowl in front of him and a self-
possessed young lady at his side. Captain Dowie was doing the
honours at my end, while the surgeon of the vessel was seated at
the other. I was glad to notice that Flannigan was placed almost
opposite to me. As long as I had him before my eyes I knew that,
for the time at least, we were safe. He was sitting with what was
meant to be a sociable smile on his grim face. It did not escape
me that he drank largely of wine--so largely that even before the
dessert appeared his voice had become decidedly husky. His friend
Muller was seated a few places lower down. He ate little, and
appeared to be nervous and restless.

"Now, ladies," said our genial Captain, "I trust that you will
consider yourselves at home aboard my vessel. I have no fears for
the gentlemen. A bottle of champagne, steward. Here's to a fresh
breeze and a quick passage! I trust our friends in America will
hear of our safe arrival in eight days, or in nine at the very

I looked up. Quick as was the glance which passed between
Flannigan and his confederate, I was able to intercept it. There
was an evil smile upon the former's thin lips.

The conversation rippled on. Politics, the sea, amusements,
religion, each was in turn discussed. I remained a silent though
an interested listener. It struck me that no harm could be done by
introducing the subject which was ever in my mind. It could be
managed in an off-hand way, and would at least have the effect of
turning the Captain's thoughts in that direction. I could watch,
too, what effect it would have upon the faces of the conspirators.

There was a sudden lull in the conversation. The ordinary subjects
of interest appeared to be exhausted. The opportunity was a
favourable one.

"May I ask, Captain," I said, bending forward and speaking very
distinctly, "what you think of Fenian manifestoes?"

The Captain's ruddy face became a shade darker from honest

"They are poor cowardly things," he said, "as silly as they are

"The impotent threats of a set of anonymous scoundrels," said
a pompous-looking old gentleman beside him.

"O Captain!" said the fat lady at my side, "you don't really think
they would blow up a ship?"

"I have no doubt they would if they could. But I am very sure they
shall never blow up mine."

"May I ask what precautions are taken against them?" asked an
elderly man at the end of the table.

"All goods sent aboard the ship are strictly examined," said
Captain Dowie.

"But suppose a man brought explosives aboard with him?" I

"They are too cowardly to risk their own lives in that way."

During this conversation Flannigan had not betrayed the slightest
interest in what was going on. He raised his head now and looked
at the Captain.

"Don't you think you are rather underrating them?" he said. "Every
secret society has produced desperate men--why shouldn't the
Fenians have them too? Many men think it a privilege to die in the
service of a cause which seems right in their eyes, though others
may think it wrong"

"Indiscriminate murder cannot be right in anybody's eyes," said the
little clergyman.

"The bombardment of Paris was nothing else," said Flannigan; "yet
the whole civilised world agreed to look on with folded arms, and
change the ugly word `murder' into the more euphonious one of
`war.' It seemed right enough to German eyes; why shouldn't
dynamite seem so to the Fenian?"

"At any rate their empty vapourings have led to nothing as yet,"
said the Captain.

"Excuse me," returned Flannigan, "but is there not some room for
doubt yet as to the fate of the Dotterel? I have met men in
America who asserted from their own personal knowledge that there
was a coal torpedo aboard that vessel."

"Then they lied," said the Captain. "It was proved conclusively at
the court-martial to have arisen from an explosion of coal-gas--but
we had better change the subject, or we may cause the ladies to
have a restless night;" and the conversation once more drifted back
into its original channel.

During this little discussion Flannigan had argued his point with
a gentlemanly deference and a quiet power for which I had not given
him credit. I could not help admiring a man who, on the eve of a
desperate enterprise, could courteously argue upon a point which
must touch him so nearly. He had, as I have already mentioned,
partaken of a considerable quantity of wine; but though there was
a slight flush upon his pale cheek, his manner was as reserved as
ever. He did not join in the conversation again, but seemed to be
lost in thought.

A whirl of conflicting ideas was battling in my own mind. What was
I to do? Should I stand up now and denounce them before both
passengers and Captain? Should I demand a few minutes'
conversation with the latter in his own cabin, and reveal it
all? For an instant I was half resolved to do it, but then the old
constitutional timidity came back with redoubled force. After all
there might be some mistake. Dick had heard the evidence and had
refused to believe in it. I determined to let things go on their
course. A strange reckless feeling came over me. Why should I
help men who were blind to their own danger? Surely it was the
duty of the officers to protect us, not ours to give warning to
them. I drank off a couple of glasses of wine, and staggered upon
deck with the determination of keeping my secret locked in my own

It was a glorious evening. Even in my excited state of mind I
could not help leaning against the bulwarks and enjoying the
refreshing breeze. Away to the westward a solitary sail stood out
as a dark speck against the great sheet of flame left by the
setting sun. I shuddered as I looked at it. It was grand but
appalling. A single star was twinkling faintly above our mainmast,
but a thousand seemed to gleam in the water below with every stroke
of our propeller. The only blot in the fair scene was the great
trail of smoke which stretched away behind us like a black slash
upon a crimson curtain. It was hard to believe that the great
peace which hung over all Nature could be marred by a poor
miserable mortal.

"After all," I thought, as I gazed into the blue depths beneath me,
"if the worst comes to the worst, it is better to die here than to
linger in agony upon a sick-bed on land." A man's life seems a
very paltry thing amid the great forces of Nature. All my
philosophy could not prevent my shuddering, however, when I turned
my head and saw two shadowy figures at the other side of the deck,
which I had no difficulty in recognising. They seemed to be
conversing earnestly, but I had no opportunity of overhearing what
was said; so I contented myself with pacing up and down, and
keeping a vigilant watch upon their movements.

It was a relief to me when Dick came on deck. Even an incredulous
confidant is better than none at all.

"Well, old man," he said, giving me a facetious dig in the ribs,
"we've not been blown up yet."

"No, not yet," said I; "but that's no proof that we are not going
to be."

"Nonsense, man!" said Dick; "I can't conceive what has put this
extraordinary idea into your head. I have been talking to one of
your supposed assassins, and he seems a pleasant fellow enough;
quite a sporting character, I should think, from the way he

"Dick," I said, "I am as certain that those men have an infernal
machine, and that we are on the verge of eternity, as if I saw them
putting the match to the fuse."

"Well, if you really think so," said Dick, half awed for the moment
by the earnestness of my manner, "it is your duty to let the
Captain know of your suspicions."

"You are right," I said; "I will. My absurd timidity has prevented
my doing so sooner. I believe our lives can only be saved by
laying the whole matter before him."

"Well, go and do it now," said Dick; "but for goodness' sake don't
mix me up in the matter."

"I'll speak to him when he comes off the bridge," I answered; "and
in the meantime I don't mean to lose sight of them."

"Let me know of the result," said my companion; and with a nod he
strolled away in search, I fancy, of his partner at the dinner-

Left to myself, I bethought me of my retreat of the morning, and
climbing on the bulwark I mounted into the quarter-boat, and lay
down there. In it I could reconsider my course of action, and by
raising my head I was able at any time to get a view of my
disagreeable neighbours.

An hour passed, and the Captain was still on the bridge. He was
talking to one of the passengers, a retired naval officer, and the
two were deep in debate concerning some abstruse point in
navigation. I could see the red tips of their cigars from where I
lay. It was dark now, so dark that I could hardly make out the
figures of Flannigan and his accomplice. They were still standing
in the position which they had taken up after dinner. A few of the
passengers were scattered about the deck, but many had gone below.
A strange stillness seemed to pervade the air. The voices of
the watch and the rattle of the wheel were the only sounds which
broke the silence.

Another half-hour passed. The Captain was still upon the bridge.
It seemed as if he would never come down. My nerves were in a
state of unnatural tension, so much so that the sound of two steps
upon the deck made me start up in a quiver of excitement. I peered
over the edge of the boat, and saw that our suspicious passengers
had crossed from the other side, and were standing almost directly
beneath me. The light of a binnacle fell full upon the ghastly
face of the ruffian Flannigan. Even in that short glance I saw
that Muller had the ulster, whose use I knew so well, slung loosely
over his arm. I sank back with a groan. It seemed that my fatal
procrastination had sacrificed two hundred innocent lives.

I had read of the fiendish vengeance which awaited a spy. I knew
that men with their lives in their hands would stick at nothing.
All I could do was to cower at the bottom of the boat and listen
silently to their whispered talk below.

"This place will do," said a voice.

"Yes, the leeward side is best."

"I wonder if the trigger will act?"

"I am sure it will."

"We were to let it off at ten, were we not?"

"Yes, at ten sharp. We have eight minutes yet." There was a
pause. Then the voice began again--

"They'll hear the drop of the trigger, won't they?"

"It doesn't matter. It will be too late for any one to prevent its
going off."

"That's true. There will be some excitement among those we have
left behind, won't there?"

"Rather. How long do you reckon it will be before they hear of

"The first news will get in at about midnight at earliest."

"That will be my doing."

"No, mine."

"Ha, ha! we'll settle that."

There was a pause here. Then I heard Muller's voice in a ghastly
whisper, "There's only five minutes more."

How slowly the moments seemed to pass! I could count them by the
throbbing of my heart.

"It'll make a sensation on land," said a voice.

"Yes, it will make a noise in the newspapers."

I raised my head and peered over the side of the boat. There
seemed no hope, no help. Death stared me in the face, whether I
did or did not give the alarm. The Captain had at last left the
bridge. The deck was deserted, save for those two dark figures
crouching in the shadow of the boat.

Flannigan had a watch lying open in his hand.

"Three minutes more," he said. "Put it down upon the deck."

"No, put it here on the bulwarks."

It was the little square box. I knew by the sound that they had
placed it near the davit, and almost exactly under my head.

I looked over again. Flannigan was pouring something out of a
paper into his hand. It was white and granular--the same that I
had seen him use in the morning. It was meant as a fuse, no doubt,
for he shovelled it into the little box, and I heard the strange
noise which had previously arrested my attention.

"A minute and a half more," he said. "Shall you or I pull the

"I will pull it," said Muller.

He was kneeling down and holding the end in his hand. Flannigan
stood behind with his arms folded, and an air of grim resolution
upon his face.

I could stand it no longer. My nervous system seemed to give way
in a moment.

"Stop!" I screamed, springing to my feet. "Stop misguided and
unprincipled men!"

They both staggered backwards. I fancy they thought I was a
spirit, with the moonlight streaming down upon my pale face.

I was brave enough now. I had gone too far to retreat.

"Cain was damned," I cried, "and he slew but one; would you have
the blood of two hundred upon your souis?"

"He's mad!" said Flannigan. "Time's up. Let it off, Muller."
I sprang down upon the deck.

"You shan't do it!" I said.

"By what right do you prevent us?"

"By every right, human and divine."

"It's no business of yours. Clear out of this."

"Never!" said I.

"Confound the fellow! There's too much at stake to stand on
ceremony. I'll hold him, Muller, while you pull the trigger."

Next moment I was struggling in the herculean grasp of the
Irishman. Resistance was useless; I was a child in his hands.

He pinned me up against the side of the vessel, and held me there.

"Now," he said, "look sharp. He can't prevent us."

I felt that I was standing on the verge of eternity. Half-
strangled in the arms of the taller ruffian, I saw the other
approach the fatal box. He stooped over it and seized the string.
I breathed one prayer when I saw his grasp tighten upon it. Then
came a sharp snap, a strange rasping noise. The trigger had
fallen, the side of the box flew out, and let off--TWO GREY

Little more need be said. It is not a subject on which I care to
dwell. The whole thing is too utterly disgusting and absurd.
Perhaps the best thing I can do is to retire gracefully from the
scene, and let the sporting correspondent of the New York Herald
fill my unworthy place. Here is an extract clipped from its
columns shortly after our departure from America:--

"Pigeon-flying Extraordinary.--A novel match has been brought off
last week between the birds of John H. Flannigan, of Boston, and
Jeremiah Muller, a well-known citizen of Lowell. Both men
have devoted much time and attention to an improved breed of bird,
and the challenge is an old-standing one. The pigeons were backed
to a large amount, and there was considerable local interest in the
result. The start was from the deck of the Transatlantic steamship
Spartan, at ten o'clock on the evening of the day of starting,
the vessel being then reckoned to be about a hundred miles from the
land. The bird which reached home first was to be declared the
winner. Considerable caution had, we believe, to be observed, as
some captains have a prejudice against the bringing off of sporting
events aboard their vessels. In spite of some little difficulty at
the last moment, the trap was sprung almost exactly at ten o'clock.

Muller's bird arrived in Lowell in an extreme state of exhaustion
on the following morning, while Flannigan's has not been heard of.
The backers of the latter have the satisfaction of knowing,
however, that the whole affair has been characterised by extreme
fairness. The pigeons were confined in a specially invented trap,
which could only be opened by the spring. It was thus possible to
feed them through an aperture in the top, but any tampering with
their wings was quite out of the question. A few such matches
would go far towards popularising pigeon-flying in America, and
form an agreeable variety to the morbid exhibitions of human
endurance which have assumed such proportions during the last few


Strange it is and wonderful to mark how upon this planet of ours
the smallest and most insignificant of events set a train of
consequences in motion which act and react until their final
results are portentous and incalculable. Set a force rolling,
however small; and who can say where it shall end, or what it may
lead to! Trifles develop into tragedies, and the bagatelle of one
day ripens into the catastrophe of the next. An oyster throws out
a secretion to surround a grain of sand, and so a pearl comes into
being; a pearl diver fishes it up, a merchant buys it and sells it
to a jeweller, who disposes of it to a customer. The customer is
robbed of it by two scoundrels who quarrel over the booty. One
slays the other, and perishes himself upon the scaffold. Here is
a direct chain of events with a sick mollusc for its first link,
and a gallows for its last one. Had that grain of sand not chanced
to wash in between the shells of the bivalve, two living breathing
beings with all their potentialities for good and for evil would
not have been blotted out from among their fellows. Who shall
undertake to judge what is really small and what is great?

Thus when in the year 1821 Don Diego Salvador bethought
him that if it paid the heretics in England to import the bark of
his cork oaks, it would pay him also to found a factory by which
the corks might be cut and sent out ready made, surely at first
sight no very vital human interests would appear to be affected.
Yet there were poor folk who would suffer, and suffer acutely--
women who would weep, and men who would become sallow and hungry-
looking and dangerous in places of which the Don had never heard,
and all on account of that one idea which had flashed across him as
he strutted, cigarettiferous, beneath the grateful shadow of his
limes. So crowded is this old globe of ours, and so interlaced our
interests, that one cannot think a new thought without some poor
devil being the better or the worse for it.

Don Diego Salvador was a capitalist, and the abstract thought soon
took the concrete form of a great square plastered building wherein
a couple of hundred of his swarthy countrymen worked with deft
nimble fingers at a rate of pay which no English artisan could have
accepted. Within a few months the result of this new competition
was an abrupt fall of prices in the trade, which was serious for
the largest firms and disastrous for the smaller ones. A few old-
established houses held on as they were, others reduced their
establishments and cut down their expenses, while one or two put up
their shutters and confessed themselves beaten. In this last
unfortunate category was the ancient and respected firm of
Fairbairn Brothers of Brisport.

Several causes had led up to this disaster, though Don Diego's
debut as a corkcutter had brought matters to a head. When a
couple of generations back the original Fairbairn had founded the
business, Brisport was a little fishing town with no outlet or
occupation for her superfluous population. Men were glad to have
safe and continuous work upon any terms. All this was altered now,
for the town was expanding into the centre of a large district in
the west, and the demand for labour and its remuneration had
proportionately increased. Again, in the old days, when carriage
was ruinous and communication slow, the vintners of Exeter and of
Barnstaple were glad to buy their corks from their neighbour of
Brisport; but now the large London houses sent down their
travellers, who competed with each other to gain the local custom,
until profits were cut down to the vanishing point. For a long
time the firm had been in a precarious position, but this further
drop in prices settled the matter, and compelled Mr. Charles
Fairbairn, the acting manager, to close his establishment.

It was a murky, foggy Saturday afternoon in November when the hands
were paid for the last time, and the old building was to be finally
abandoned. Mr. Fairbairn, an anxious-faced, sorrow-worn man, stood
on a raised dais by the cashier while he handed the little pile of
hardly-earned shillings and coppers to each successive workman as
the long procession filed past his table. It was usual with the
employes to clatter away the instant that they had been paid, like
so many children let out of school; but to-day they waited,
forming little groups over the great dreary room, and discussing in
subdued voices the misfortune which had come upon their employers,
and the future which awaited themselves. When the last pile of
coins had been handed across the table, and the last name checked
by the cashier, the whole throng faced silently round to the man
who had been their master, and waited expectantly for any words
which he might have to say to them.

Mr. Charles Fairbairn had not expected this, and it embarrassed
him. He had waited as a matter of routine duty until the wages
were paid, but he was a taciturn, slow-witted man, and he had not
foreseen this sudden call upon his oratorical powers. He stroked
his thin cheek nervously with his long white fingers, and looked
down with weak watery eyes at the mosaic of upturned serious faces.

"I am sorry that we have to part, my men," he said at last in a
crackling voice. "It's a bad day for all of us, and for Brisport
too. For three years we have been losing money over the works. We
held on in the hope of a change coming, but matters are going from
bad to worse. There's nothing for it but to give it up before the
balance of our fortune is swallowed up. I hope you may all be able
to get work of some sort before very long. Good-bye, and God bless

"God bless you, sir! God bless you!" cried a chorus of rough
voices. "Three cheers for Mr. Charles Fairbairn!" shouted a
bright-eyed, smart young fellow, springing up upon a bench and
waving his peaked cap in the air. The crowd responded to the call,
but their huzzas wanted the true ring which only a joyous heart can
give. Then they began to flock out into the sunlight, looking back
as they went at the long deal tables and the cork-strewn floor--
above all at the sad-faced, solitary man, whose cheeks were flecked
with colour at the rough cordiality of their farewell.

"Huxford," said the cashier, touching on the shoulder the young
fellow who had led the cheering; "the governor wants to speak to

The workman turned back and stood swinging his cap awkwardly in
front of his ex-employer, while the crowd pushed on until the
doorway was clear, and the heavy fog-wreaths rolled unchecked into
the deserted tactory.

"Ah, John!" said Mr. Fairbairn, coming suddenly out of his reverie
and taking up a letter from the table. "You have been in my
service since you were a boy, and you have shown that you merited
the trust which I have placed in you. From what I have heard I
think I am right in saying that this sudden want of work will
affect your plans more than it will many of my other hands."

"I was to be married at Shrovetide," the man answered, tracing a
pattern upon the table with his horny forefinger. "I'll have to
find work first."

"And work, my poor fellow, is by no means easy to find. You see
you have been in this groove all your life, and are unfit for
anything else. It's true you've been my foreman, but even
that won't help you, for the factories all over England are
discharging hands, and there's not a vacancy to be had. It's a bad
outlook for you and such as you."

"What would you advise, then, sir?" asked John Huxford.

"That's what I was coming to. I have a letter here from Sheridan
and Moore, of Montreal, asking for a good hand to take charge of a
workroom. If you think it will suit you, you can go out by the
next boat. The wages are far in excess of anything which I have
been able to give you."

"Why, sir, this is real kind of you," the young workman said
earnestly. "She--my girl--Mary, will be as grateful to you as I
am. I know what you say is right, and that if I had to look for
work I should be likely to spend the little that I have laid by
towards housekeeping before I found it. But, sir, with your leave
I'd like to speak to her about it before I made up my mind. Could
you leave it open for a few hours?"

"The mail goes out to-morrow," Mr. Fairbairn answered. "If you
decide to accept you can write tonight. Here is their letter,
which will give you their address."

John Huxford took the precious paper with a grateful heart. An
hour ago his future had been all black, but now this rift of light
had broken in the west, giving promise of better things. He would
have liked to have said something expressive of his feelings to his
employer, but the English nature is not effusive, and he could
not get beyond a few choking awkward words which were as awkwardly
received by his benefactor. With a scrape and a bow, he turned on
his heel, and plunged out into the foggy street.

So thick was the vapour that the houses over the way were only a
vague loom, but the foreman hurried on with springy steps through
side streets and winding lanes, past walls where the fishermen's
nets were drying, and over cobble-stoned alleys redolent of
herring, until he reached a modest line of whitewashed cottages
fronting the sea. At the door of one of these the young man
tapped, and then without waiting for a response, pressed down the
latch and walked in.

An old silvery-haired woman and a young girl hardly out of her
teens were sitting on either side of the fire, and the latter
sprang to her feet as he entered.

"You've got some good news, John," she cried, putting her hands
upon his shoulders, and looking into his eyes. "I can tell it from
your step. Mr. Fairbairn is going to carry on after all."

"No, dear, not so good as that," John Huxford answered, smoothing
back her rich brown hair; "but I have an offer of a place in
Canada, with good money, and if you think as I do, I shall go out
to it, and you can follow with the granny whenever I have made all
straight for you at the other side. What say you to that, my

"Why, surely, John, what you think is right must be for the
best," said the girl quietly, with trust and confidence in her pale
plain face and loving hazel eyes. "But poor granny, how is she to
cross the seas?"

"Oh, never mind about me," the old woman broke in cheerfully.
"I'll be no drag on you. If you want granny, granny's not too old
to travel; and if you don't want her, why she can look after the
cottage, and have an English home ready for you whenever you turn
back to the old country."

"Of course we shall need you, granny," John Huxford said, with a
cheery laugh. "Fancy leaving granny behind! That would never do!
Mary! But if you both come out, and if we are married all snug and
proper at Montreal, we'll look through the whole city until we find
a house something like this one, and we'll have creepers on the
outside just the same, and when the doors are shut and we sit round
the fire on the winter's nights, I'm hanged if we'll be able to
tell that we're not at home. Besides, Mary, it's the same speech
out there, and the same king and the same flag; it's not like a
foreign country."

"No, of course not," Mary answered with conviction. She was an
orphan with no living relation save her old grandmother, and no
thought in life but to make a helpful and worthy wife to the man
she loved. Where these two were she could not fail to find
happiness. If John went to Canada, then Canada became home to her,
for what had Brisport to offer when he was gone?

"I'm to write to-night then and accept?" the young man asked.
"I knew you would both be of the same mind as myself, but of course
I couldn't close with the offer until we had talked it over. I can
get started in a week or two, and then in a couple of months I'll
have all ready for you on the other side."

"It will be a weary, weary time until we hear from you, dear John,"
said Mary, clasping his hand; "but it's God's will, and we must be
patient. Here's pen and ink. You can sit at the table and write
the letter which is to take the three of us across the Atlantic."
Strange how Don Diego's thoughts were moulding human lives in the
little Devon village.

The acceptance was duly despatched, and John Huxford began
immediately to prepare for his departure, for the Montreal firm had
intimated that the vacancy was a certainty, and that the chosen man
might come out without delay to take over his duties. In a very
few days his scanty outfit was completed, and he started off in a
coasting vessel for Liverpool, where he was to catch the passenger
ship for Quebec.

"Remember, John," Mary whispered, as he pressed her to his heart
upon the Brisport quay, "the cottage is our own, and come what may,
we have always that to fall back upon. If things should chance to
turn out badly over there, we have always a roof to cover us.
There you will find me until you send word to us to come."

"And that will be very soon, my lass," he answered cheerfully, with
a last embrace. "Good-bye, granny, good-bye." The ship was a mile
and more from the land before he lost sight of the figures of
the straight slim girl and her old companion, who stood watching
and waving to him from the end of the grey stone quay. It was with
a sinking heart and a vague feeling of impending disaster that he
saw them at last as minute specks in the distance, walking townward
and disappearing amid the crowd who lined the beach.

From Liverpool the old woman and her granddaughter received a
letter from John announcing that he was just starting in the barque
St. Lawrence, and six weeks afterwards a second longer epistle
informed them of his safe arrival at Quebec, and gave them his
first impressions of the country. After that a long unbroken
silence set in. Week after week and month after month passed by,
and never a word came from across the seas. A year went over their
heads, and yet another, but no news of the absentee. Sheridan and
Moore were written to, and replied that though John Huxford's
letter had reached them, he had never presented himself, and they
had been forced to fill up the vacancy as best they could. Still
Mary and her grandmother hoped against hope, and looked out for the
letter-carrier every morning with such eagerness, that the kind-
hearted man would often make a detour rather than pass the two pale
anxious faces which peered at him from the cottage window. At
last, three years after the young foreman's disappearance, old
granny died, and Mary was left alone, a broken sorrowful woman,
living as best she might on a small annuity which had descended to
her, and eating her heart out as she brooded over the mystery
which hung over the fate of her lover.

Among the shrewd west-country neighbours there had long, however,
ceased to be any mystery in the matter. Huxford arrived safely in
Canada--so much was proved by his letter. Had he met with his end
in any sudden way during the journey between Quebec and Montreal,
there must have been some official inquiry, and his luggage would
have sufficed to have established his identity. Yet the Canadian
police had been communicated with, and had returned a positive
answer that no inquest had been held, or any body found, which
could by any possibility be that of the young Englishman. The only
alternative appeared to be that he had taken the first opportunity
to break all the old ties, and had slipped away to the backwoods or
to the States to commence life anew under an altered name. Why he
should do this no one professed to know, but that he had done it
appeared only too probable from the facts. Hence many a deep growl
of righteous anger rose from the brawny smacksmen when Mary with
her pale face and sorrow-sunken head passed along the quays on her
way to her daily marketing; and it is more than likely that if the
missing man had turned up in Brisport he might have met with some
rough words or rougher usage, unless he could give some very good
reason for his strange conduct. This popular view of the case
never, however, occurred to the simple trusting heart of the lonely
girl, and as the years rolled by her grief and her suspense were
never for an instant tinged with a doubt as to the good faith
of the missing man. From youth she grew into middle age, and from
that into the autumn of her life, patient, long-suffering, and
faithful, doing good as far as lay in her power, and waiting humbly
until fate should restore either in this world or the next that
which it had so mysteriously deprived her of.

In the meantime neither the opinion held by the minority that John
Huxford was dead, nor that of the majority, which pronounced him to
be faithless, represented the true state of the case. Still alive,
and of stainless honour, he had yet been singled out by fortune as
her victim in one of those strange freaks which are of such rare
occurrence, and so beyond the general experience, that they might
be put by as incredible, had we not the most trustworthy evidence
of their occasional possibility.

Landing at Quebec, with his heart full of hope and courage, John
selected a dingy room in a back street, where the terms were less
exorbitant than elsewhere, and conveyed thither the two boxes which
contained his worldly goods. After taking up his quarters there he
had half a mind to change again, for the landlady and the fellow-
lodgers were by no means to his taste; but the Montreal coach
started within a day or two, and he consoled himself by the thought
that the discomfort would only last for that short time. Having
written home to Mary to announce his safe arrival, he employed
himself in seeing as much of the town as was possible, walking
about all day, and only returning to his room at night.

It happened, however, that the house on which the unfortunate youth
had pitched was one which was notorious for the character of its
inmates. He had been directed to it by a pimp, who found regular
employment in hanging about the docks and decoying new-comers to
this den. The fellow's specious manner and proffered civility had
led the simple-hearted west-countryman into the toils, and though
his instinct told him that he was in unsafe company, he refrained,
unfortunately, from at once making his escape. He contented
himself with staying out all day, and associating as little as
possible with the other inmates. From the few words which he did
let drop, however, the landlady gathered that he was a stranger
without a single friend in the country to inquire after him should
misfortune overtake him.

The house had an evil reputation for the hocussing of sailors,
which was done not only for the purpose of plundering them, but
also to supply outgoing ships with crews, the men being carried on
board insensible, and not coming to until the ship was well down
the St. Lawrence. This trade caused the wretches who followed it
to be experts in the use of stupefying drugs, and they determined
to practise their arts upon their friendless lodger, so as to have
an opportunity of ransacking his effects, and of seeing what it
might be worth their while to purloin. During the day he
invariably locked his door and carried off the key in his
pocket, but if they could render him insensible for the night they
could examine his boxes at their leisure, and deny afterwards that
he had ever brought with him the articles which he missed. It
happened, therefore, upon the eve of Huxford's departure from
Quebec, that he found, upon returning to his lodgings, that his
landlady and her two ill-favoured sons, who assisted her in her
trade, were waiting up for him over a bowl of punch, which they
cordially invited him to share. It was a bitterly cold night, and
the fragrant steam overpowered any suspicions which the young
Englishman may have entertained, so he drained off a bumper, and
then, retiring to his bedroom, threw himself upon his bed without
undressing, and fell straight into a dreamless slumber, in which he
still lay when the three conspirators crept into his chamber, and,
having opened his boxes, began to investigate his effects.

It may have been that the speedy action of the drug caused its
effect to be evanescent, or, perhaps, that the strong constitution
of the victim threw it off with unusual rapidity. Whatever the
cause, it is certain that John Huxford suddenly came to himself,
and found the foul trio squatted round their booty, which they were
dividing into the two categories of what was of value and should be
taken, and what was valueless and might therefore be left. With a
bound he sprang out of bed, and seizing the fellow nearest him by
the collar, he slung him through the open doorway. His brother
rushed at him, but the young Devonshire man met him with such a
facer that he dropped in a heap upon the ground.
Unfortunately, the violence of the blow caused him to overbalance
himself, and, tripping over his prostrate antagonist, he came down
heavily upon his face. Before he could rise, the old hag sprang
upon his back and clung to him, shrieking to her son to bring the
poker. John managed to shake himself clear of them both, but
before he could stand on his guard he was felled from behind by a
crashing blow from an iron bar, which stretched him senseless upon
the floor.

"You've hit too hard, Joe," said the old woman, looking down at the
prostrate figure. "I heard the bone go."

"If I hadn't fetched him down he'd ha' been too many for us," said
the young villain sulkily.

"Still, you might ha' done it without killing him, clumsy," said
his mother. She had had a large experience of such scenes, and
knew the difference between a stunning blow and a fatal one.

"He's still breathing," the other said, examining him; "the back o'
his head's like a bag o' dice though. The skull's all splintered.
He can't last. What are we to do?"

"He'll never come to himself again," the other brother remarked.
"Sarve him right. Look at my face! Let's see, mother; who's in
the house?"

"Only four drunk sailors."

"They wouldn't turn out for any noise. It's all quiet in the
street. Let's carry him down a bit, Joe, and leave him there. He
can die there, and no one think the worse of us."

"Take all the papers out of his pocket, then," the mother
suggested; "they might help the police to trace him. His watch,
too, and his money--L3 odd; better than nothing. Now carry him
softly and don't slip."

Kicking off their shoes, the two brothers carried the dying man
down stairs and along the deserted street for a couple of hundred
yards. There they laid him among the snow, where he was found by
the night patrol, who carried him on a shutter to the hospital. He
was duly examined by the resident surgeon, who bound up the wounded
head, but gave it as his opinion that the man could not possibly
live for more than twelve hours.

Twelve hours passed, however, and yet another twelve, but John
Huxford still struggled hard for his life. When at the end of
three days he was found to be still breathing, the interest of the
doctors became aroused at his extraordinary vitality, and they bled
him, as the fashion was in those days, and surrounded his shattered
head with icebags. It may have been on account of these measures,
or it may have been in spite of them, but at the end of a week's
deep trance the nurse in charge was astonished to hear a gabbling
noise, and to find the stranger sitting up upon the couch and
staring about him with wistful, wondering eyes. The surgeons were
summoned to behold the phenomenon, and warmly congratulated each
other upon the success of their treatment.

"You have been on the brink of the grave, my man," said one of
them, pressing the bandaged head back on to the pillow; "you must
not excite yourself. What is your name?"

No answer, save a wild stare.

"Where do you come from?"

Again no answer.

"He is mad," one suggested. "Or a foreigner," said another.
"There were no papers on him when he came in. His linen is marked
`J. H.' Let us try him in French and German."

They tested him with as many tongues as they could muster among
them, but were compelled at last to give the matter over and to
leave their silent patient, still staring up wild-eyed at the
whitewashed hospital ceiling.

For many weeks John lay in the hospital, and for many weeks efforts
were made to gain some clue as to his antecedents, but in vain. He
showed, as the time rolled by, not only by his demeanour, but also
by the intelligence with which he began to pick up fragments of
sentences, like a clever child learning to talk, that his mind was
strong enough in the present, though it was a complete blank as to
the past. The man's memory of his whole life before the fatal blow
was entirely and absolutely erased. He neither knew his name, his
language, his home, his business, nor anything else. The doctors
held learned consultations upon him, and discoursed upon the centre
of memory and depressed tables, deranged nerve-cells and cerebral
congestions, but all their polysyllables began and ended at the
fact that the man's memory was gone, and that it was beyond
the power of science to restore it. During the weary months of his
convalescence he picked up reading and writing, but with the return
of his strength came no return of his former life. England,
Devonshire, Brisport, Mary, Granny--the words brought no
recollection to his mind. All was absolute darkness. At last he
was discharged, a friendless, tradeless, penniless man, without a
past, and with very little to look to in the future. His very name
was altered, for it had been necessary to invent one. John Huxford
had passed away, and John Hardy took his place among mankind. Here
was a strange outcome of a Spanish gentleman's tobacco-inspired

John's case had aroused some discussion and curiosity in Quebec, so
that he was not suffered to drift into utter helplessness upon
emerging from the hospital. A Scotch manufacturer named M`Kinlay
found him a post as porter in his establishment, and for a long
time he worked at seven dollars a week at the loading and unloading
of vans. In the course of years it was noticed, however, that his
memory, however defective as to the past, was extremely reliable
and accurate when concerned with anything which had occurred since
his accident. From the factory he was promoted into the counting-
house, and the year 1835 found him a junior clerk at a salary of
L120 a year. Steadily and surely John Hardy fought his way upward
from post to post, with his whole heart and mind devoted to the
business. In 1840 he was third clerk, in 1845 he was second, and
in 1852 he became manager of the whole vast establishment, and
second only to Mr. M`Kinlay himself.

There were few who grudged John this rapid advancement, for it was
obviously due to neither chance nor favouritism, but entirely to
his marvellous powers of application and industry. From early
morning until late in the night he laboured hard in the service of
his employer, checking, overlooking, superintending, setting an
example to all of cheerful devotion to duty. As he rose from one
post to another his salary increased, but it caused no alteration
in his mode of living, save that it enabled him to be more open-
handed to the poor. He signalised his promotion to the managership
by a donation of L1000 to the hospital in which he had been
treated a quarter of a century before. The remainder of his
earnings he allowed to accumulate in the business, drawing a small
sum quarterly for his sustenance, and still residing in the humble
dwelling which he had occupied when he was a warehouse porter. In
spite of his success he was a sad, silent, morose man, solitary in
his habits, and possessed always of a vague undefined yearning, a
dull feeling of dissatisfaction and of craving which never
abandoned him. Often he would strive with his poor crippled brain
to pierce the curtain which divided him from the past, and to solve
the enigma of his youthful existence, but though he sat many a time
by the fire until his head throbbed with his efforts, John Hardy
could never recall the least glimpse of John Huxford's history.

On one occasion he had, in the interests of the firm, to journey to
Quebec, and to visit the very cork factory which had tempted him to
leave England. Strolling through the workroom with the foreman,
John automatically, and without knowing what he was doing, picked
up a square piece of the bark, and fashioned it with two or three
deft cuts of his penknife into a smooth tapering cork. His
companion picked it out of his hand and examined it with the eye of
an expert. "This is not the first cork which you have cut by many
a hundred, Mr. Hardy," he remarked. "Indeed you are wrong," John
answered, smiling; "I never cut one before in my life."
"Impossible!" cried the foreman. "Here's another bit of cork. Try
again." John did his best to repeat the performance, but the
brains of the manager interfered with the trained muscles of the
corkcutter. The latter had not forgotten their cunning, but they
needed to be left to themselves, and not directed by a mind which
knew nothing of the matter. Instead of the smooth graceful shape,
he could produce nothing but rough-hewn clumsy cylinders. "It must
have been chance," said the foreman, "but I could have sworn that
it was the work of an old hand!"

As the years passed John's smooth English skin had warped and
crinkled until he was as brown and as seamed as a walnut. His
hair, too, after many years of iron-grey, had finally become as
white as the winters of his adopted country. Yet he was a hale and
upright old man, and when he at last retired from the manager-
ship of the firm with which he had been so long connected, he
bore the weight of his seventy years lightly and bravely. He was
in the peculiar position himself of not knowing his own age, as it
was impossible for him to do more than guess at how old he was at
the time of his accident.

The Franco-German War came round, and while the two great rivals
were destroying each other, their more peaceful neighbours were
quietly ousting them out of their markets and their commerce. Many
English ports benefited by this condition of things, but none more
than Brisport. It had long ceased to be a fishing village, but was
now a large and prosperous town, with a great breakwater in place
of the quay on which Mary had stood, and a frontage of terraces and
grand hotels where all the grandees of the west country came when
they were in need of a change. All these extensions had made
Brisport the centre of a busy trade, and her ships found their way
into every harbour in the world. Hence it was no wonder,
especially in that very busy year of 1870, that several Brisport
vessels were lying in the river and alongside the wharves of

One day John Hardy, who found time hang a little on his hands since
his retirement from business, strolled along by the water's edge
listening to the clanking of the steam winches, and watching the
great barrels and cases as they were swung ashore and piled upon
the wharf. He had observed the coming in of a great ocean steamer,
and having waited until she was safely moored, he was turning
away, when a few words fell upon his ear uttered by some one on
board a little weather-beaten barque close by him. It was only
some commonplace order that was bawled out, but the sound fell upon
the old man's ears with a strange mixture of disuse and
familiarity. He stood by the vessel and heard the seamen at their
work, all speaking with the same broad, pleasant jingling accent.
Why did it send such a thrill through his nerves to listen to it?
He sat down upon a coil of rope and pressed his hands to his
temples, drinking in the long-forgotten dialect, and trying to
piece together in his mind the thousand half-formed nebulous
recollections which were surging up in it. Then he rose, and
walking along to the stern he read the name of the ship, The
Sunlight, Brisport. Brisport! Again that flush and tingle
through every nerve. Why was that word and the men's speech so
familiar to him? He walked moodily home, and all night he lay
tossing and sleepless, pursuing a shadowy something which was ever
within his reach, and yet which ever evaded him.

Early next morning he was up and down on the wharf listening to the
talk of the west-country sailors. Every word they spoke seemed to
him to revive his memory and bring him nearer to the light. From
time to time they paused in their work, and seeing the white-haired
stranger sitting so silently and attentively, they laughed at him
and broke little jests upon him. And even these jests had a
familiar sound to the exile, as they very well might, seeing that
they were the same which he had heard in his youth, for no one
ever makes a new joke in England. So he sat through the long day,
bathing himself in the west-country speech, and waiting for the
light to break.

And it happened that when the sailors broke off for their mid-day
meal, one of them, either out of curiosity or good nature, came
over to the old watcher and greeted him. So John asked him to be
seated on a log by his side, and began to put many questions to him
about the country from which he came, and the town. All which the
man answered glibly enough, for there is nothing in the world that
a sailor loves to talk of so much as of his native place, for it
pleases him to show that he is no mere wanderer, but that he has a
home to receive him whenever he shall choose to settle down to a
quiet life. So the seaman prattled away about the Town Hall and
the Martello Tower, and the Esplanade, and Pitt Street and the High
Street, until his companion suddenly shot out a long eager arm and
caught him by the wrist. "Look here, man," he said, in a low quick
whisper. "Answer me truly as you hope for mercy. Are not the
streets that run out of the High Street, Fox Street, Caroline
Street, and George Street, in the order named?" "They are," the
sailor answered, shrinking away from the wild flashing eyes. And
at that moment John's memory came back to him, and he saw clear and
distinct his life as it had been and as it should have been, with
every minutest detail traced as in letters of fire. Too stricken
to cry out, too stricken to weep, he could only hurry away
homewards wildly and aimlessly; hurry as fast as his aged limbs
would carry him, as if, poor soul! there were some chance yet of
catching up the fifty years which had gone by. Staggering and
tremulous he hastened on until a film seemed to gather over his
eyes, and throwing his arms into the air with a great cry, "Oh,
Mary, Mary! Oh, my lost, lost life!" he fell senseless upon the

The storm of emotion which had passed through him, and the mental
shock which he had undergone, would have sent many a man into a
raging fever, but John was too strong-willed and too practical to
allow his strength to be wasted at the very time when he needed it
most. Within a few days he realised a portion of his property, and
starting for New York, caught the first mail steamer to England.
Day and night, night and day, he trod the quarter-deck, until the
hardy sailors watched the old man with astonishment, and marvelled
how any human being could do so much upon so little sleep. It was
only by this unceasing exercise, by wearing down his vitality until
fatigue brought lethargy, that he could prevent himself from
falling into a very frenzy of despair. He hardly dared ask himself
what was the object of this wild journey? What did he expect?
Would Mary be still alive? She must be a very old woman. If he
could but see her and mingle his tears with hers he would be
content. Let her only know that it had been no fault of his, and
that they had both been victims to the same cruel fate. The
cottage was her own, and she had said that she would wait for
him there until she heard from him. Poor lass, she had never
reckoned on such a wait as this.

At last the Irish lights were sighted and passed, Land's End lay
like a blue fog upon the water, and the great steamer ploughed its
way along the bold Cornish coast until it dropped its anchor in
Plymouth Bay. John hurried to the railway station, and within a
few hours he found himself back once more in his native town, which
he had quitted a poor corkcutter, half a century before.

But was it the same town? Were it not for the name engraved all
over the station and on the hotels, John might have found a
difficulty in believing it. The broad, well-paved streets, with
the tram lines laid down the centre, were very different from the
narrow winding lanes which he could remember. The spot upon which
the station had been built was now the very centre of the town, but
in the old days it would have been far out in the fields. In every
direction, lines of luxurious villas branched away in streets and
crescents bearing names which were new to the exile. Great
warehouses, and long rows of shops with glittering fronts, showed
him how enormously Brisport had increased in wealth as well as in
dimensions. It was only when he came upon the old High Street that
John began to feel at home. It was much altered, but still it was
recognisable, and some few of the buildings were just as he had
left them. There was the place where Fairbairn's cork works had
been. It was now occupied by a great brand-new hotel. And
there was the old grey Town Hall. The wanderer turned down beside
it, and made his way with eager steps but a sinking heart in the
direction of the line of cottages which he used to know so well.

It was not difficult for him to find where they had been. The sea
at least was as of old, and from it he could tell where the
cottages had stood. But alas, where were they now! In their place
an imposing crescent of high stone houses reared their tall front
to the beach. John walked wearily down past their palatial
entrances, feeling heart-sore and despairing, when suddenly a
thrill shot through him, followed by a warm glow of excitement and
of hope, for, standing a little back from the line, and looking as
much out of place as a bumpkin in a ballroom, was an old
whitewashed cottage, with wooden porch and walls bright with
creeping plants. He rubbed his eyes and stared again, but there it
stood with its diamond-paned windows and white muslin curtains, the
very same down to the smallest details, as it had been on the day
when he last saw it. Brown hair had become white, and fishing
hamlets had changed into cities, but busy hands and a faithful
heart had kept granny's cottage unchanged and ready for the

And now, when he had reached his very haven of rest, John Huxford's
mind became more filled with apprehension than ever, and he came
over so deadly sick, that he had to sit down upon one of the beach
benches which faced the cottage. An old fisherman was perched
at one end of it, smoking his black clay pipe, and he remarked
upon the wan face and sad eyes of the stranger.

"You have overtired yourself," he said. "It doesn't do for old
chaps like you and me to forget our years."

"I'm better now, thank you," John answered. "Can you tell me,
friend, how that one cottage came among all those fine houses?"

"Why," said the old fellow, thumping his crutch energetically upon
the ground, "that cottage belongs to the most obstinate woman in
all England. That woman, if you'll believe me, has been offered
the price of the cottage ten times over, and yet she won't part
with it. They have even promised to remove it stone by stone, and
put it up on some more convenient place, and pay her a good round
sum into the bargain, but, God bless you! she wouldn't so much as
hear of it."

"And why was that?" asked John.

"Well, that's just the funny part of it. It's all on account of a
mistake. You see her spark went away when I was a youngster, and
she's got it into her head that he may come back some day, and that
he won't know where to go unless the cottage is there. Why, if the
fellow were alive he would be as old as you, but I've no doubt he's
dead long ago. She's well quit of him, for he must have been a
scamp to abandon her as he did."

"Oh, he abandoned her, did he?"

"Yes--went off to the States, and never so much as sent a word to
bid her good-bye. It was a cruel shame, it was, for the girl
has been a-waiting and a-pining for him ever since. It's my belief
that it's fifty years' weeping that blinded her."

"She is blind!" cried John, half rising to his feet.

"Worse than that," said the fisherman. "She's mortal ill, and not
expected to live. Why, look ye, there's the doctor's carriage a-
waiting at her door."

At this evil tidings old John sprang up and hurried over to the
cottage, where he met the physician returning to his brougham.

"How is your patient, doctor?" he asked in a trembling voice.

"Very bad, very bad," said the man of medicine pompously. "If she
continues to sink she will be in great danger; but if, on the other
hand, she takes a turn, it is possible that she may recover," with
which oracular answer he drove away in a cloud of dust.

John Huxford was still hesitating at the doorway, not knowing how
to announce himself, or how far a shock might be dangerous to the
sufferer, when a gentleman in black came bustling up.

"Can you tell me, my man, if this is where the sick woman is?" he

John nodded, and the clergyman passed in, leaving the door half
open. The wanderer waited until he had gone into the inner room,
and then slipped into the front parlour, where he had spent so many
happy hours. All was the same as ever, down to the smallest
ornaments, for Mary had been in the habit whenever anything was
broken of replacing it with a duplicate, so that there might
be no change in the room. He stood irresolute, looking about him,
until he heard a woman's voice from the inner chamber, and stealing
to the door he peeped in.

The invalid was reclining upon a couch, propped up with pillows,
and her face was turned full towards John as he looked round the
door. He could have cried out as his eyes rested upon it, for
there were Mary's pale, plain, sweet homely features as smooth and
as unchanged as though she were still the half child, half woman,
whom he had pressed to his heart on the Brisport quay. Her calm,
eventless, unselfish life had left none of those rude traces upon
her countenance which are the outward emblems of internal conflict
and an unquiet soul. A chaste melancholy had refined and softened
her expression, and her loss of sight had been compensated for by
that placidity which comes upon the faces of the blind. With her
silvery hair peeping out beneath her snow-white cap, and a bright
smile upon her sympathetic face, she was the old Mary improved and
developed, with something ethereal and angelic superadded.

"You will keep a tenant in the cottage," she was saying to the
clergyman, who sat with his back turned to the observer. "Choose
some poor deserving folk in the parish who will be glad of a home
free. And when he comes you will tell him that I have waited for
him until I have been forced to go on, but that he will find me on
the other side still faithful and true. There's a little money
too--only a few pounds--but I should like him to have it when
he comes, for he may need it, and then you will tell the folk you
put in to be kind to him, for he will be grieved, poor lad, and to
tell him that I was cheerful and happy up to the end. Don't let
him know that I ever fretted, or he may fret too."

Now John listened quietly to all this from behind the door, and
more than once he had to put his hand to his throat, but when she
had finished, and when he thought of her long, blameless, innocent
life, and saw the dear face looking straight at him, and yet unable
to see him, it became too much for his manhood, and he burst out
into an irrepressible choking sob which shook his very frame. And
then occurred a strange thing, for though he had spoken no word,
the old woman stretched out her arms to him, and cried, "Oh,
Johnny, Johnny! Oh dear, dear Johnny, you have come back to me
again," and before the parson could at all understand what had
happened, those two faithful lovers were in each other's arms,
weeping over each other, and patting each other's silvery heads,
with their hearts so full of joy that it almost compensated for all
that weary fifty years of waiting.

It is hard to say how long they rejoiced together. It seemed a
very short time to them and a very long one to the reverend
gentleman, who was thinking at last of stealing away, when Mary
recollected his presence and the courtesy which was due to him.
"My heart is full of joy, sir," she said; "it is God's will that I
should not see my Johnny, but I can call his image up as clear as
if I had my eyes. Now stand up, John, and I will let the
gentleman see how well I remember you. He is as tall, sir, as the
second shelf, as straight as an arrow, his face brown, and his eyes
bright and clear. His hair is well-nigh black, and his moustache
the same--I shouldn't wonder if he had whiskers as well by this
time. Now, sir, don't you think I can do without my sight?" The
clergyman listened to her description, and looking at the battered,
white-haired man before him, he hardly knew whether to laugh or to

But it all proved to be a laughing matter in the end, for, whether
it was that her illness had taken some natural turn, or that John's
return had startled it away, it is certain that from that day Mary
steadily improved until she was as well as ever. "No special
license for me," John had said sturdily. "It looks as if we were
ashamed of what we are doing, as though we hadn't the best right to
be married of any two folk in the parish." So the banns were put
up accordingly, and three times it was announced that John Huxford,
bachelor, was going to be united to Mary Howden, spinster, after
which, no one objecting, they were duly married accordingly. "We
may not have very long in this world," said old John, "but at least
we shall start fair and square in the next."

John's share in the Quebec business was sold out, and gave rise to
a very interesting legal question as to whether, knowing that his
name was Huxford, he could still sign that of Hardy, as was
necessary for the completion of the business. It was decided,
however, that on his producing two trustworthy witnesses to
his identity all would be right, so the property was duly realised
and produced a very handsome fortune. Part of this John devoted to
building a pretty villa just outside Brisport, and the heart of the
proprietor of Beach Terrace leaped within him when he learned that
the cottage was at last to be abandoned, and that it would no
longer break the symmetry and impair the effect of his row of
aristocratic mansions.

And there in their snug new home, sitting out on the lawn in the
summer-time, and on either side of the fire in the winter, that
worthy old couple continued for many years to live as innocently
and as happily as two children. Those who knew them well say that
there was never a shadow between them, and that the love which
burned in their aged hearts was as high and as holy as that of any
young couple who ever went to the altar. And through all the
country round, if ever man or woman were in distress and fighting
against hard times, they had only to go up to the villa to receive
help, and that sympathy which is more precious than help. So when
at last John and Mary fell asleep in their ripe old age, within a
few hours of each other, they had all the poor and the needy and
the friendless of the parish among their mourners, and in talking
over the troubles which these two had faced so bravely, they
learned that their own miseries also were but passing things, and
that faith and truth can never miscarry, either in this existence
or the next.



From my boyhood I have had an intense and overwhelming conviction
that my real vocation lay in the direction of literature. I have,
however, had a most unaccountable difficulty in getting any
responsible person to share my views. It is true that private
friends have sometimes, after listening to my effusions, gone the
length of remarking, "Really, Smith, that's not half bad!" or, "You
take my advice, old boy, and send that to some magazine!" but I
have never on these occasions had the moral courage to inform my
adviser that the article in question had been sent to well-nigh
every publisher in London, and had come back again with a rapidity
and precision which spoke well for the efficiency of our postal

Had my manuscripts been paper boomerangs they could not have
returned with greater accuracy to their unhappy dispatcher. Oh,
the vileness and utter degradation of the moment when the stale
little cylinder of closely written pages, which seemed so fresh and
full of promise a few days ago, is handed in by a remorseless
postman! And what moral depravity shines through the
editor's ridiculous plea of "want of space!" But the subject is a
painful one, and a digression from the plain statement of facts
which I originally contemplated.

From the age of seventeen to that of three-and-twenty I was a
literary volcano in a constant state of eruption. Poems and tales,
articles and reviews, nothing came amiss to my pen. From the great
sea-serpent to the nebular hypothesis, I was ready to write on
anything or everything, and I can safely say that I seldom handled
a subject without throwing new lights upon it. Poetry and romance,
however, had always the greatest attractions for me. How I have
wept over the pathos of my heroines, and laughed at the
comicalities of my buffoons! Alas! I could find no one to join me
in my appreciation, and solitary admiration for one's self, however
genuine, becomes satiating after a time. My father remonstrated
with me too on the score of expense and loss of time, so that I was
finally compelled to relinquish my dreams of literary independence
and to become a clerk in a wholesale mercantile firm connected with
the West African trade.

Even when condemned to the prosaic duties which fell to my lot in
the office, I continued faithful to my first love. I have
introduced pieces of word-painting into the most commonplace
business letters which have, I am told, considerably astonished the
recipients. My refined sarcasm has made defaulting creditors
writhe and wince. Occasionally, like the great Silas Wegg, I would
drop into poetry, and so raise the whole tone of the
correspondence. Thus what could be more elegant than my rendering
of the firm's instructions to the captain of one of their vessels.
It ran in this way :--

"From England, Captain, you must steer a
Course directly to Madeira,
Land the casks of salted beef,
Then away to Teneriffe.
Pray be careful, cool, and wary
With the merchants of Canary.
When you leave them make the most
Of the trade winds to the coast.
Down it you shall sail as far
As the land of Calabar,
And from there you'll onward go
To Bonny and Fernando Po"----

and so on for four pages. The captain, instead of treasuring up
this little gem, called at the office next day, and demanded with
quite unnecessary warmth what the thing meant, and I was compelled
to translate it all back into prose. On this, as on other similar
occasions, my employer took me severely to task--for he was, you
see, a man entirely devoid of all pretensions to literary taste!

All this, however, is a mere preamble, and leads up to the fact
that after ten years or so of drudgery I inherited a legacy which,
though small, was sufficient to satisfy my simple wants. Finding
myself independent, I rented a quiet house removed from the uproar
and bustle of London, and there I settled down with the
intention of producing some great work which should single me
out from the family of the Smiths, and render my name immortal. To
this end I laid in several quires of foolscap, a box of quill pens,
and a sixpenny bottle of ink, and having given my housekeeper
injunctions to deny me to all visitors, I proceeded to look round
for a suitable subject.

I was looking round for some weeks. At the end of that time I
found that I had by constant nibbling devoured a large number of
the quills, and had spread the ink out to such advantage, what with
blots, spills, and abortive commencements, that there appeared to
be some everywhere except in the bottle. As to the story itself,
however, the facility of my youth had deserted me completely, and
my mind remained a complete blank; nor could I, do what I would,
excite my sterile imagination to conjure up a single incident or

In this strait I determined to devote my leisure to running rapidly
through the works of the leading English novelists, from Daniel
Defoe to the present day, in the hope of stimulating my latent
ideas and of getting a good grasp of the general tendency of
literature. For some time past I had avoided opening any work of
fiction because one of the greatest faults of my youth had been
that I invariably and unconsciously mimicked the style of the last
author whom I had happened to read. Now, however, I made up my
mind to seek safety in a multitude, and by consulting ALL the
English classics to avoid?? the danger of imitating any one too
closely. I had just accomplished the task of reading through
the majority of the standard novels at the time when my narrative

It was, then, about twenty minutes to ten on the night of the
fourth of June, eighteen hundred and eighty-six, that, after
disposing of a pint of beer and a Welsh rarebit for my supper, I
seated myself in my arm-chair, cocked my feet upon a stool, and lit
my pipe, as was my custom. Both my pulse and my temperature were,
as far as I know, normal at the time. I would give the state of
the barometer, but that unlucky instrument had experienced an
unprecedented fall of forty-two inches--from a nail to the ground--
and was not in a reliable condition. We live in a scientific age,
and I flatter myself that I move with the times.

Whilst in that comfortable lethargic condition which accompanies
both digestion and poisoning by nicotine, I suddenly became aware
of the extraordinary fact that my little drawing-room had elongated
into a great salon, and that my humble table had increased in
proportion. Round this colossal mahogany were seated a great
number of people who were talking earnestly together, and the
surface in front of them was strewn with books and pamphlets. I
could not help observing that these persons were dressed in a most
extraordinary mixture of costumes, for those at the end nearest to
me wore peruke wigs, swords, and all the fashions of two centuries
back; those about the centre had tight knee-breeches, high cravats,
and heavy bunches of seals; while among those at the far side
the majority were dressed in the most modern style, and among
them I saw, to my surprise, several eminent men of letters whom I
had the honour of knowing. There were two or three women in the
company. I should have risen to my feet to greet these unexpected
guests, but all power of motion appeared to have deserted me, and
I could only lie still and listen to their conversation, which I
soon perceived to be all about myself.

"Egad!" exclaimed a rough, weather-beaten man, who was smoking a
long churchwarden pipe at my end of the table, "my heart softens
for him. Why, gossips, we've been in the same straits ourselves.
Gadzooks, never did mother feel more concern for her eldest born
than I when Rory Random went out to make his own way in the world."

"Right, Tobias, right!" cried another man, seated at my very elbow.

"By my troth, I lost more flesh over poor Robin on his island, than
had I the sweating sickness twice told. The tale was well-nigh
done when in swaggers my Lord of Rochester--a merry gallant, and
one whose word in matters literary might make or mar. `How now,
Defoe,' quoth he, `hast a tale on hand?' `Even so, your lordship,'
I returned. `A right merry one, I trust,' quoth he. `Discourse
unto me concerning thy heroine, a comely lass, Dan, or I mistake.'
`Nay,' I replied, `there is no heroine in the matter.' `Split not
your phrases,' quoth he; `thou weighest every word like a scald
attorney. Speak to me of thy principal female character, be she
heroine or no.' `My lord,' I answered, `there is no female
character.' `Then out upon thyself and thy book too!' he cried.
`Thou hadst best burn it!'--and so out in great dudgeon, whilst I
fell to mourning over my poor romance, which was thus, as it were,
sentenced to death before its birth. Yet there are a thousand now
who have read of Robin and his man Friday, to one who has heard of
my Lord of Rochester."

"Very true, Defoe," said a genial-looking man in a red waistcoat,
who was sitting at the modern end of the table. "But all this
won't help our good friend Smith in making a start at his story,
which, I believe, was the reason why we assembled."

"The Dickens it is!" stammered a little man beside him, and
everybody laughed, especially the genial man, who cried out,
"Charley Lamb, Charley Lamb, you'll never alter. You would make a
pun if you were hanged for it."

"That would be a case of haltering," returned the other, on which
everybody laughed again.

By this time I had begun to dimly realise in my confused brain the
enormous honour which had been done me. The greatest masters of
fiction in every age of English letters had apparently made a
rendezvous beneath my roof, in order to assist me in my
difficulties. There were many faces at the table whom I was unable
to identify; but when I looked hard at others I often found them to
be very familiar to me, whether from paintings or from mere
description. Thus between the first two speakers, who had betrayed
themselves as Defoe and Smollett, there sat a dark, saturnine
corpulent old man, with harsh prominent features, who I was sure
could be none other than the famous author of Gulliver. There were
several others of whom I was not so sure, sitting at the other side
of the table, but I conjecture that both Fielding and Richardson
were among them, and I could swear to the lantern-jaws and
cadaverous visage of Lawrence Sterne. Higher up I could see among
the crowd the high forehead of Sir Walter Scott, the masculine
features of George Eliott, and the flattened nose of Thackeray;
while amongst the living I recognised James Payn, Walter Besant,
the lady known as "Ouida," Robert Louis Stevenson, and several of
lesser note. Never before, probably, had such an assemblage of
choice spirits gathered under one roof.

"Well," said Sir Walter Scott, speaking with a pronounced accent,
"ye ken the auld proverb, sirs, `Ower mony cooks,' or as the Border
minstrel sang--

`Black Johnstone wi' his troopers ten
Might mak' the heart turn cauld,
But Johnstone when he's a' alane
Is waur ten thoosand fauld.'

The Johnstones were one of the Redesdale families, second cousins
of the Armstrongs, and connected by marriage to----"

"Perhaps, Sir Walter," interrupted Thackeray, "you would take the
responsibility off our hands by yourself dictating the commencement
of a story to this young literary aspirant."

"Na, na!" cried Sir Walter; "I'll do my share, but there's Chairlie
over there as full o' wut as a Radical's full o' treason. He's the
laddie to give a cheery opening to it."

Dickens was shaking his head, and apparently about to refuse the
honour, when a voice from among the moderns--I could not see who it
was for the crowd--said:

"Suppose we begin at the end of the table and work round, any one
contributing a little as the fancy seizes him?"

"Agreed! agreed!" cried the whole company; and every eye was turned
on Defoe, who seemed very uneasy, and filled his pipe from a great
tobacco-box in front of him.

"Nay, gossips," he said, "there are others more worthy----" But he
was interrupted by loud cries of "No! no!" from the whole table;
and Smollett shouted out, "Stand to it, Dan--stand to it! You and
I and the Dean here will make three short tacks just to fetch her
out of harbour, and then she may drift where she pleases." Thus
encouraged, Defoe cleared his throat, and began in this way,
talking between the puffs of his pipe:--

"My father was a well-to-do yeoman of Cheshire, named Cyprian
Overbeck, but, marrying about the year 1617, he assumed the name of
his wife's family, which was Wells; and thus I, their eldest son,
was named Cyprian Overbeck Wells. The farm was a very fertile one,
and contained some of the best grazing land in those parts, so
that my father was enabled to lay by money to the extent of a
thousand crowns, which he laid out in an adventure to the Indies
with such surprising success that in less than three years it had
increased fourfold. Thus encouraged, he bought a part share of the
trader, and, fitting her out once more with such commodities as
were most in demand (viz., old muskets, hangers and axes, besides
glasses, needles, and the like), he placed me on board as
supercargo to look after his interests, and despatched us upon our

"We had a fair wind as far as Cape de Verde, and there, getting
into the north-west trade-winds, made good progress down the
African coast. Beyond sighting a Barbary rover once, whereat our
mariners were in sad distress, counting themselves already as
little better than slaves, we had good luck until we had come
within a hundred leagues of the Cape of Good Hope, when the wind
veered round to the southward and blew exceeding hard, while the
sea rose to such a height that the end of the mainyard dipped into
the water, and I heard the master say that though he had been at
sea for five-and-thirty years he had never seen the like of it, and
that he had little expectation of riding through it. On this I
fell to wringing my hands and bewailing myself, until the mast
going by the board with a crash, I thought that the ship had
struck, and swooned with terror, falling into the scuppers and
lying like one dead, which was the saving of me, as will appear in
the sequel. For the mariners, giving up all hope of saving the
ship, and being in momentary expectation that she would
founder, pushed off in the long-boat, whereby I fear that they met
the fate which they hoped to avoid, since I have never from that
day heard anything of them. For my own part, on recovering from
the swoon into which I had fallen, I found that, by the mercy of
Providence, the sea had gone down, and that I was alone in the
vessel. At which last discovery I was so terror-struck that I
could but stand wringing my hands and bewailing my sad fate, until
at last taking heart, I fell to comparing my lot with that of my
unhappy camerados, on which I became more cheerful, and descending
to the cabin, made a meal off such dainties as were in the
captain's locker."

Having got so far, Defoe remarked that he thought he had given them
a fair start, and handed over the story to Dean Swift, who, after
premising that he feared he would find himself as much at sea as
Master Cyprian Overbeck Wells, continued in this way:--

"For two days I drifted about in great distress, fearing that there
should be a return of the gale, and keeping an eager look-out for
my late companions. Upon the third day, towards evening, I
observed to my extreme surprise that the ship was under the
influence of a very powerful current, which ran to the north-east
with such violence that she was carried, now bows on, now stern on,
and occasionally drifting sideways like a crab, at a rate which I
cannot compute at less than twelve or fifteen knots an hour. For
several weeks I was borne away in this manner, until one morning,
to my inexpressible joy, I sighted an island upon the
starboard quarter. The current would, however, have carried me
past it had I not made shift, though single-handed, to set the
flying-jib so as to turn her bows, and then clapping on the sprit-
sail, studding-sail, and fore-sail, I clewed up the halliards upon
the port side, and put the wheel down hard a-starboard, the wind
being at the time north-east-half-east."

At the description of this nautical manoeuvre I observed that
Smollett grinned, and a gentleman who was sitting higher up the
table in the uniform of the Royal Navy, and who I guessed to be
Captain Marryat, became very uneasy and fidgeted in his seat.

"By this means I got clear of the current and was able to steer
within a quarter of a mile of the beach, which indeed I might have
approached still nearer by making another tack, but being an
excellent swimmer, I deemed it best to leave the vessel, which was
almost waterlogged, and to make the best of my way to the

"I had had my doubts hitherto as to whether this new-found country
was inhabited or no, but as I approached nearer to it, being on the
summit of a great wave, I perceived a number of figures on the
beach, engaged apparently in watching me and my vessel. My joy,
however, was considerably lessened when on reaching the land I
found that the figures consisted of a vast concourse of animals of
various sorts who were standing about in groups, and who hurried
down to the water's edge to meet me. I had scarce put my foot upon
the sand before I was surrounded by an eager crowd of deer,
dogs, wild boars, buffaloes, and other creatures, none of whom
showed the least fear either of me or of each other, but, on the
contrary, were animated by a common feeling of curiosity, as well
as, it would appear, by some degree of disgust."

"A second edition," whispered Lawrence Sterne to his neighbour;
"Gulliver served up cold."

"Did you speak, sir?" asked the Dean very sternly, having evidently
overheard the remark.

"My words were not addressed to you, sir," answered Sterne, looking
rather frightened.

"They were none the less insolent," roared the Dean. "Your
reverence would fain make a Sentimental Journey of the narrative,
I doubt not, and find pathos in a dead donkey--though faith, no man
can blame thee for mourning over thy own kith and kin."

"Better that than to wallow in all the filth of Yahoo-land,"
returned Sterne warmly, and a quarrel would certainly have ensued
but for the interposition of the remainder of the company. As it
was, the Dean refused indignantly to have any further hand in the
story, and Sterne also stood out of it, remarking with a sneer that
he was loth to fit a good blade on to a poor handle. Under these
circumstances some further unpleasantness might have occurred had
not Smollett rapidly taken up the narrative, continuing it in the
third person instead of the first:--

"Our hero, being considerably alarmed at this strange reception,
lost little time in plunging into the sea again and regaining
his vessel, being convinced that the worst which might befall him
from the elements would be as nothing compared to the dangers of
this mysterious island. It was as well that he took this course,
for before nightfall his ship was overhauled and he himself picked
up by a British man-of-war, the Lightning, then returning
from the West Indies, where it had formed part of the fleet under
the command of Admiral Benbow. Young Wells, being a likely lad
enough, well-spoken and high-spirited, was at once entered on the
books as officer's servant, in which capacity he both gained great
popularity on account of the freedom of his manners, and found an
opportunity for indulging in those practical pleasantries for which
he had all his life been famous.

"Among the quartermasters of the Lightning there was one named
Jedediah Anchorstock, whose appearance was so remarkable that it
quickly attracted the attention of our hero. He was a man of about
fifty, dark with exposure to the weather, and so tall that as he
came along the 'tween decks he had to bend himself nearly double.
The most striking peculiarity of this individual was, however, that
in his boyhood some evil-minded person had tattooed eyes all over
his countenance with such marvellous skill that it was difficult at
a short distance to pick out his real ones among so many
counterfeits. On this strange personage Master Cyprian determined
to exercise his talents for mischief, the more so as he learned
that he was extremely superstitious, and also that he had left
behind him in Portsmouth a strong-minded spouse of whom he
stood in mortal terror. With this object he secured one of the

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