Charles Dickens.

A message from the sea : The extra Christmas number of All the year round online

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Bless you ! the old priests, smart mechanical
critturs as they were, jiever piled up many of
these stones. Water's the lever that moved
'em. When you see 'em thick and blunt tew-
wards one point of the compass, and fined away
thin tewwards the opposite point, you may be as
good as moral sure that the name of the ancient
Druid that fixed 'em was Water."

The captain referred to some great blocks of
stone presenting this characteristic, which were
wonderfully balanced and heaped on one another,
on a desolate hill. Looking back at these, as
they stood out against the lurid glare of the
west, just then expiring, they were not unlike
enormous antediluvian birds, that had perched
there on crags and peaks, and had been petrified
there.

"But it's an interesting country," said the
captain, " fact ! It's old in the annals of
that said old Arch Druid, Water, and it's old
in the annals of the said old parson-critturs
too. It's a mighty interesting thing to set
your boot (as I did this day) on a rough honey-
combed old stone, with just nothing you can
name but weather visible upon it : which the
scholars that go about with hammers, chipping
pieces off the universal airth, find to be an in-
scription, entreating prayers for the soul of
some for-ages-bust-up crittur of a governor that
over-taxed a people never heard of." Here the
captain stopped to slap his leg. "It's a mighty
interesting thing to come upon a score or two
of stones set up on end in a desert, some short,
some tall, some leaning here, some leaning there,
and to know that they were pop'larly supposed
and may be still to be a group of Cornish
men that got changed into that geological for-
mation for playing a game upon a Sunday. They
wouldn't have it in my country, I reckon, even
if they could get it but it's very interesting."

In this, the captain, though it amused him,
was quite sincere. Quite as sincere as when he
added, after looking well about him : " That
fog-bank coming up as the sun goes down, will
spread, and we shall have to feel our way into
Lanrean full as much as see it."

All the way along, the young fisherman had
spoken at times to the captain, of his interrupted
hopes, and of the family good name, and of the
restitution that must be made, and of the che-
rished plans of his heart so near attainment,
which must be set aside for it. In his simple
faith and honour, he seemed incapable of en-
tertaining the idea that it was within the bounds
of possibility to evade the doing of what their



inquiries should establish to be right. This
was very agreeable to Captain Jorgan, and won
his genuine admiration. Wherefore, he now
turned the discourse, back into that channel,
and encouraged his companion to talk of Kitty,
and to calculate how many y fears it would take,
without a share in the fishery, to establish a
home for her, and to relieve his honest heart by
dwelling on its anxieties.

Meanwhile, it fell very dark, and the fog be-
came dense, though the wind howled at them and
bit them as savagely as ever. The captain had
carefully taken the bearings of Lanrean from the
map, and carried his pocket compass with him ;
the young fisherman, too, possessed that kind of
cultivated instinct for shaping a course, which is
often found among men of such pursuits. But,
although they held a true course in the main, and
corrected it when they lost the road by the aid of
the compass and a light obtained with great diffi-
culty in the roomy depths of the captain's hat,
they could not help losing the road often. On
such occasions they wouM become involved in
the difficult ground of the spongy moor, and,
after making a laborious loop, would emerge
upon the road at some point they had passed
before they left it, and thus would have a good
deal of work to do twice over. But the young
fisherman was not easily lost, and the captain
(and his comb) would probably have turned up,
with perfect coolness and self-possession, at any
appointed spot on the surface of this globe.
Consequently, they were no more than retarded
in their progress to Lanrean, and arrived in that
small place at nine o'clock. By that time, the
captain's hat had fallen back over his ears and
rested on the nape of his neck ; but he still had
his hands in his pockets, and showed no other
sign of dilapidation.

They had almost run against a low stone house
with red-curtained windows, before they knew
they had hit upon the little hotel, the King
Arthur's Arms. They could just descry through
the mist, on the opposite side of the narrow
road, other low stone buildings which were its
outhouses and stables ; and somewhere over-
head, its invisible sign was being wrathfully
swung by the wind.

" Now, wait a bit," said the captain. " They
might be full here, or they might offer us
cold quarters. Consequently, the policy is to
take an observation, and, when we've found
the warmest room, walk right slap into it."

The warmest room was evidently that from
which fire and candle streamed reddest and
brightest, and from which the sound of voices
engaged in some discussion came out into the
night. Captain Jorgan having established the
bearings of this room, merely said to his young
friend, " Eollow me !" and was in it, before Kin^
Arthur's Arms had any notion that they enfolded

" Order, order, order !" cried several voices,
as the captain with his hat under his arm, stood
within the door he had opened.

" Gentlemen," said the captain, advancing,
"I am much beholden to you for the oppor-



Charles Dickens.]



A MESSAGE FROM THE SEA.



[December 13, I860.]



tunity you give me of addressing you ; but will
not detain you with any leiigihenrd observa-
tions. I have the honour to be a cousin of
yours on the Uncle Sam side ; this young friend
of mine is ;i nearer relation of yours on the De-
vonshire side; we are both pretty nigh used up,
and much in want of supper. I thank you for
your welcome, and I am proud to take you by
the hand, sir, and I hope I see you well."

These last words were addressed to a jolly
looking chairman with a wooden hammer near
him: which, but for the captain's friendly grasp,
he would have taken up, and hammered the table
with.

" How do you do, sir ?" said the captain,
shaking this chairman's hand with the greatest
heartiness, while his new friend ineffectually
eyed his hammer of office ; " when you come to
my country, I shall be proud to return your wel-
come, sir, and that of this good company."

The captain now took his seat near the fire,
and invited his companion to do the like whom
lie congratulated aloud, on their having "fallen
on their feet."

The company, who might be about a dozen
in number, were at a loss what to make of, or
do with, the captain. But, one little old man
in long flapping shirt collars : who, with only
his face ana them visible through a cloud of
tobacco smoke, looked like a superannuated
Cherubim : said sharply,

" This is a Club."

" This is a Club," the captain repeated to his
young friend. " Wa'al now, that's curious !
Didn't I say, coming along, if we could only
light upon a Club ?"

The captain's .doubling himself up and slap-
ping his leg, finished the chairman. He had
been softening towards the captain from the
first, and he melted. " Gentlemen King Ar-
thurs," said he, rising, "though it is not the
custom to admit strangers, still, as we have
broken the rule once to-night, I will exert my
authority and break it again. And while the
supper of these travellers is cooking ;" here his
eye fell on the landlord, who discreetly took the
hint and withdrew to see about it ; "I will
recal you to the subject of the seafaring man."

" D'ye hear !" said the captain, aside to the
young fisherman ; " that's in our way. Who's
the seafaring man, I wonder ?"

" I see several old men here," returned the
young fisherman, eagerly, for his thoughts were
always on his object. "" Perhaps one or more
of the old men whose names you wrote down in
your book, may be here."

" Perhaps," said the captain ; " I've got my
eye on 'em. But don't force it. Try if it won't
come nat'ral."

Thus the two, behind their hands, while
they sat warming them at the fire. Simul-
taneously, the Club beginning to be at its ease
again, and resuming the discussion of the sea-
faring man, the captain winked to his fellow-
traveller to let him attend to it.

As it was a kind of conversation not altoge-
ther unprecedented in such assemblages, where



most of those who spoke at all, spoke all at
once, and where half of those could put no be-
uiniiiiig to what they had to say, and the other
half could put no end, the tendency of the
debate was discursive, and not very intelligible.
All the captain had made out, down to the
time when the separate little table' laid for two
was covered with a smoking broiled fowl and
rashers of bacon, reduced itself to these honds.
That, a seafaring man had arrived at The
King Arthur's Arms, benighted, an hour or so
earlier in the evening. That, the Gentlemen
King Arthurs had admitted him, though all un-
known, into the sanctuary of their Club. That,
they had invited him to make his footing good
by telling a story. That, he had, after some
pressing, begun a story of adventure and ship-
wreck : at an interesting point of which he sud-
denly broke off, and positively refused to finish.
That, he had thereupon taken up a candlestick,
and gone to bed, and was now the sole occupant
of a double-bedded room up-stairs. The ques-
tion raised on these premises, appeared to be,
whether the seafaring man was not in a state
of contumacy and contempt, and ought not to
be formally voted and declared in that condi-
tion. This deliberation involved the difficulty
(suggested by the more jocose and irreverent of
the' ^Gentlemen King Arthurs) that it might
make no sort of difference to the seafaring
man whether he was so voted and declared, or
not.

Captain Jorgan and the young fisjierman ate
their supper and drank their beer' and their
knives and forks had ceased to rattle and their
glasses had ceased to clink, and still the discus-
sion showed no symptoms of coming to any con-
clusion. But, when they had left their little
supper-table and had returned to their seats by
the fire, the Chairman hammered himself into
attention, and thus outspake.

" Gentlemen King Arthurs ; when the night is
so bad without, harmony should prevail within.
When the moor is so windy, cold, and bleak,
this room should be cheerful, convivial, and en-
tertaining. Gentlemen, at present it is neither
the one, nor yet the other, nor yet the other.
Gentlemen King Arthurs, I recal you to your-
selves. Gentlemen King Arthurs, what are you ?
You are inhabitants old inhabitants of the
noble village of Lanrean. You are in council as-
sembled. You are a monthly Club through all
the winter months, and they are many. It is your
perroud perrivilege, on a new member's entrance,
or on a member's birthday, to call upon that
member to make good his footing by relating to
you some transaction or adventure in his life, or
in the life of a relation, or in the life of a friend,
and then to depute me as your representative to
spin a teetotum to pass it round. Gentlemen
King Arthurs, your perroud perrivileges shall
not suffer in my keeping. N no ! Therefore,
as the member whose birthday the present occa-
sion has the honour to be, has gratified you;
and as the seafaring man overiiead has not gra-
tified you; I start you fresh, by spinning the
teetotum attached to my office, and calling on



13 [December 13, 1860.1



A MESSAGE FROM THE SEA.



[Conducted by



the gentleman it falls to, to speak up when his
name is declared."

The captain and his young friend looked hard
at the teetotum as it whirled rapidly, and harder
still when it gradually became intoxicated and
began to stagger about the table in an ill-con-
ducted and disorderly manner. Finally, it came
into collision with a candlestick and leaped
against the pipe of the old gentleman with
the flapping shirt collars. Thereupon, the chair-
man struck the table once with his hammer
and said :

" Mr. Parvis !"

"D'ye hear that?" whispered the captain,
greatly excited, to the young fisherman. " I'd
have laid you a thousand dollars a good half-
hour ago, that that old cherubim in the clouds
was Arson Parvis !"

The respectable personage in question, after
turning up one eye to assist his memory at
which time, he bore a very striking resemblance
indeed to the conventional representations of
his race as executed in oil by various ancient
masters commenced a narrative, of which the
interest centred in a waistcoat. It appeared
that the waistcoat was a yellow waistcoat with
a green stripe, white sleeves, and a plain brass
button. It also appeared that the waistcoat was
made to order, by Nicholas Pendold of Penzance,
who was thrown off the top of a four-horse
coach coming down the hill on the Plymouth
road, and, pitching on his head where he was
not sensitive, lived two-and-thirty years after-
wards, and considered himself the better for the
accident roused up, as it might be. It further
appeared that the waistcoat belonged to Mr.
Parvis's father, and had once attended him, in
company with a pair of gaiters, to the annual
feast of miners at St. Just : where the extraor-
dinary circumstance which ever afterwards ren-
dered" it a waistcoat famous in story had oc-
curred. But, the celebrity of the waistcoat
was not thoroughly accounted for by Mr.
Parvis, and had to be to some extent taken on
trust by the company, in consequence of that
gentleman's entirely forgetting all about the
extraordinary circumstance that had handed it
down to fame. Indeed, he was even unable, on
a gentle cross-examination instituted for the
assistance of his memory, to inform the Gentle-
men King Arthurs whether it was a circumstance
of a natural or supernatural character. Having
thus responded to the teetotum, Mr. Parvis,
after looking out from his clouds as if he would
like to see the man who would beat that, sub-
sided into himself.

The fraternity were plunged into a blank con-
dition by Mr. Parvis's success, and the chairman
was about to try another spin, when young
Raybrock whom Captain Jorgan had with
difficulty restrained rose, and said might he
ask Mr. Parvis a question

The Gentlemen King Arthurs holding, with
loud cries of " Order !" that he might not, he
asked the question as soon as he could possibly
make himself heard.

Did the forgotten circumstance relate in any



way to money ? To a sum of money, such as
five hundred pounds ? To money supposed by
its possessor to be honestly come by, but in
reality ill-gotten and stolen ?

A general surprise seized upon the club when
this remarkable inquiry was preferred; which
would have become resentment but for the
captain's interposition.

" Strange as it sounds," said he, " and sus-
picious as it sounds, I pledge myself, gentle-
men, that my young friend here has a manly
stand-up Cornish reason for his words. Also, I
pledge myself that they are inoffensive words.
He and I are searching for information on a
subject which those words generally describe.
Such information we may get from the honestest
and best of men may get, or not get, here or
anywhere about here. I hope the Honourable
Mr. Arson I ask his pardon Parvis will riot
object to quiet my young friend's mind by say-
ing Yes or No.

After some time, the obtuse Mr. Parvis was
with great trouble and difficulty induced to
roar out "No !" For which concession the cap-
tain rose and thanked him.

" Now, listen to the next," whispered the
captain to the young fisherman. " There may
be more in him than in the other crittur. Don't
interrupt him. Hear him out."

The chairman with all due formality spun the
teetotum, and it reeled into the brandy-and-
water of a strong brown man of sixty or so :
John Tredgear : the manager of a neighbouring
mine. He immediately began as follows, with
a plain business-like air that gradually warmed
as he proceeded.



IT happened that at one period of my life the
path of my destiny (not a tin path then) lay
along the highways and byways of France, and
that I had occasion to make frequent stoppages
at common French roadside cabarets tliat
kind of tavern which has a very bad name in
French books and French plays. I had engaged
myself in an undertaking wliich rendered such
journeys necessary. A very old friend of mine
had recently established himself at Paris in a
wholesale commercial enterprise, into the nature
of which it is not necessary for our present pur-
pose to enter. He had proposed to me a certain
share in the undertaking, and one of the duties of
my post was to involve occasional journeys among
the smaller towns and villages of France, with
the view of establishing agencies and opening
connexions. My friend had applied to me to
undertake this function, rather than to a native,
feeling that he could trust me better than a
stranger. He knew also that, in consequence
of my having been half my life at school in
France, my knowledge of the language would
be sufficient for every purpose that could be re-
quired.

I accepted my friend's proposal, and entered
with such energy as I could command upon
my new mode of life. Sometimes, my journey-
ings from place to place were accomplished by



ChtrlM Dickeni.]



A MESSAGE FROM THE SEA.



[December 13, ISM.] 13



means of the railroad, or other public conveyance ;
but there were other occasions, and these last
I liked the best, when it was necessary I should
go to out-of-the-way places, and by such cross-
roads as rendered it more convenient for me
to travel with a carriage and horse of my own.
My carriage was a kind of phaeton without a
coach-box," with a leather hood that would put
up and down ; and there was plenty of room at
the back, for such specimens or samples of
goods as it was necessary that I should carry
with me. For my horse it was absolutely in-
dispensable that it should be an animal of some
value, as no horse but a very good one would
be capable of performing the long courses day
after day which my mode of travelling rendered
necessary. He cost me two thousand francs,
and was anything but dear at the price.

Many were the journeys we performed toge-
ther over the broad acres of beautiful France.
Many were the hotels, many the auberges, many
the bad dinners, many the damp beds, and many
the fleas which I encountered en route. Many
were the dull old fortified towns over whose
drawbridges I rolled ; many the still more dull
old towns without fortifications and without
drawbridges, at which my avocations made it ne-
cessary for me to halt.

I don't know how it was that on the morning
when I was to start from the town of Doulaise,
with the intention of sleeping at Francy-le-
Grand, I was an hour later in commencing my
journey than I ought to have been. I have said
I don't know how it was, but this is scarcely true.
1 do know how it was. It was because on that
morning, to use a popular expression, everything
went wrong. So, it was an hour later than it
ought to have been, gentlemen, when I drew up
the sheepskin lining of my carriage apron over
my legs, and establishing my little dog com-
fortably on the seat beside me, set off on my
journey. In all my expeditions I was accom-
panied by a favourite terrier of mine, which I
had brought with me from England. I never tra-
velled without her, and founcl her a companion.

It was a miserable day in the month of Oc-
tober. A perfectly grey sky, with white gleams
about the horizon, gave unmistakable evi-
dence that the small drizzle which was falling
would continue for four-and-twenty hours at
least. It was cold and cheerless weather, and
on the deserted road I was pursuing, there was
scarcely a human being (unless it was an oc-
casional cantonnier, or road-mender) to break
the solitude. A deserted way indeed, with pop-
lars on each side of it, which had turned yellow
in the autumn, and had shed their leaves in
abundance all across the road, so that my mare's
footsteps had quite a mufiled sound as she
trampled them under her hoofs. Widely-ex-
tending flats spread out on either side till the
view was lost in an inconceivably melancholy
scene, and the road itself was so perfectly
straight, that you could see something like ten
miles of it diminishing to a point in front of
you, while a similar view was visible through
the little window at the back of the carriage.



In the hurry of the morning's departure I had
omitted to inquire, as I generally did in travelling
an unknown road, at what village it would be
best for me to stop, about noon, to bait, and what
was the name of the most respectable house of
public entertainment in my way ; so that when
I arrived between twelve and one o'clock at a
certain place where four roads met ; and when at
one of the corners formed by their union I saw
a great bare-looking inn, with the sign of the
Tete Noire swinging in front ; I had nothing
for it but to put up there, without knowing any-
thing of the character of the house.

The look of the place did not please me.
It was a great bare uninhabited-looking house,
which seemed much larger than was neces-
sary, and presented a black and dirty appear-
ance, which, considering the distance from any
town, it was difficult to account for. All the
doors and all the windows were shut; there
was no sign of any living creature about the
place; aucl niched into the wall above the
principal entrance was a grim and ghastly-look-
ing lite-size figure of a Saint. For a moment I
hesitated whether I should turn into the open
gates of the stable-yard, or go further in search
of some more attractive halting-place. But my
mare was tired, I was more than half way on my
road, and this would be the best division of the
journey. Besides, Gentlemen; why not put
up here? If I was only going to stop at
such places of entertainment as completely
satisfied me, externally as well as internally,
I had better give up travelling altogether.

There were no more signs of life in the inte-
rior of the yard, than were presented by the ex-
ternal aspect of the house, as it fronted the
road. Everything seemed shut up. All the
stables and outhouses were characterised by
closed doors, without so much as a straw
clinging to their thresholds to indicate that
these buildings were sometimes put to a prac-
tical use. I saw no manure strewed about the
place, and no living creature : no pigs, no
ducks, no fowls. It was perfectly still and
quiet, and, as it was one of those days when a
fine small rain descends cmite straight, with-
out a breath of air to drive it one way or
other, the silence was complete and distressing.
I gave a loud shout, and began undoing the
harness while my summons was taking effect.

The first person whom the sound of my voice
appeared to have reached, was a small but preco-
cious boy : who opened a door in the back of the
house, and, descending the flight of steps which
led to it, approached to aid me in my task. I
was just undoing the final buckle on my side
of the harness, when, happening to turn round,
I discovered, standing close behind me, a per-
sonage who had approached so quietly that it
would have been a confusing thing to find him
so near even if there had been nothing in his ap-
pearance which was calculated to startle one.
He was the most ill-looking man, Gentlemen,
that it was ever my fortune to behold. Nearer
fifty than any other age I could give him,
his dry spare nature had kept him as light and



[December 13, I860.]



A MESSAGE FROM THE SEA.



[Conducted by



active as a restless boy. An absence of flesh,
however, was not the only want I felt to exist
in the personal appearance of the landlord of
the Tete Noire. There was a much more serious
defect in him than this. A want of any hint of
mercy, or conscience, or any accessible approach
to the better side (if there was a better side)
of the roan's nature. When first I looked
at his eyes, as he stood behind me in the open
court, and as they rapidly glanced over the
comely points of my horse, and thence to the
packages inside my^ carriage and the port-
manteau strapped on in front of it at that time,
the colour of his eyes appeared to me to be of
an almost orange tinge; but when, a minute
afterwards, we stoocl together in the dark
stable, 1 noted that a kind of blue phospho-
rescence gleamed upon their surface, veiling
their real hue, and imparting to them a
tigerish lustre. The moment when I remarked
this, by-the-by, was when the organs I have


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Online LibraryCharles DickensA message from the sea : The extra Christmas number of All the year round → online text (page 3 of 12)