Billeder på siden

in the ground. But I felt no scruple in taking the precious casket; for had he not cheated me out of my dues as well as others? And being the only one who abode constantly with him, I had a sort of right to consider myself his heir.

"And here I continued not many days, having indeed enough to eat and drink, and clothe myself withal; but not having human creatures to speak to, and not even a dog for company, which may be very good company indeed. But before very long I spied, one day, a ship about two leagues to sea. Fortunately our boat was safe, hidden beneath boughs in a little creek. It might be an enemy or a pirate, but also it might be a fairdealing vessel; and better it were to run any risk than to become ill and die on the lonely cayo. So I put up a shoulder-of-mutton sail, more to attract attention than to gain the breeze, and betaking myself to the oars, pulled on lustily. I had filled my pockets with broad pieces, and was able to secrete the box of precious stones in my raiment. The vessel proved to be the Agnes, belonging to the Merchant Adventurers of Bristol, a very opulent and worthy body. gave but a very lame account of myself how I had been cast away on the island-but such as it was they received it kindly; sailors being, according to my observations, of a sincere and simple kind, and not readily yielding to suspicion. For, indeed, had they known that I had appertained to the company of that notorious pirate Morgan, they would have used very little ceremony in hanging me up to the yardarm of the Agnes. But so hospitable were they, that they refused even to take any pieces of gold from the rescued mariner. And, indeed, the captain of that ship showed me no little


kindness, for he asked me to come and see him at his home-a little house, with an orchard and a fair garden-by the side of the tidal Avon, under a gentle hill, looking across the narrow waters of the Bristol Channel, towards the Welsh mountains-from whence came that old friend and enemy both, John Morgan-and not far from Bristolia herself. He had a niece called Agnes, christened after the ship, who, though young and fair, married such a battered sailor and sinner as myself. By the advice of my wife's uncle I had also dealings with the great London banking firm of the Godsons. I had changed some diamonds into gold, for which, indeed, I got a rare price; but the rest I sealed up in a casket with some other property at the aforesaid bankers, the Godsons of Lombard-street. And, indeed, though I might be in a sore strait, I should have a mortal fear of resorting to that casket; for my mind grievously misdoubts but some of the jewelry were misbegotten by piracy on the high seas, and that the last of my days might yet be passed in Execution Dock.

'So I betook myself to my old craft of the shipping business, being part mate and part owner, for I held some fifteen sixty-fourths of the ship. But now I went out to the East Indies, and not to the West Indies, being desirous to put the whole compass of the earth between me and the evil days of John Morgan; and I traded honestly, and not without prosperity. Indifferently honest was I; for, alas, how the potency of our old habits clings to us most closely! For dealing with these Chinese barbarians and their junks, we Christians did not make much ado about cheating them in their business, or, for the matter of that, cutting a few throats, if i came


to a fight; and, indeed, the hard life that I had led told very much upon me, and made me an old man before my time. And in these East Indies it was my sad chance to be wrecked, not on such a sweet delicious island as that cayo of which I spoke, and whose woods and streams I sometimes see in my dreams; but upon a low sandy bar beneath a torrid sun, from which I and others were fetched off, when nigh to death, by a companion vessel that had been searching for its consort. And

coming home in a very weak state, there were two great shocks which happened to me, and which at that time I could hardly bear. For going to Godsons' bank in Lombard-street upon my route, I found with infinite dismay that the said bank had totally disappeared. The offices were turned into gay shops with a warehouse overhead. They had very little money of mine then; and, indeed, my purpose was not to draw money, but to pay it in. But though I had no money there, to speak of, still there was my precious casket, which had been in their charge for so many years. And how the thing happened I never rightly knew. Whether it

was by bankruptcy or roguery that the bank had stopped, or whether, as I heard a rumour, the bank had transferred its business beyond seas, I knew not; for I was weak and ill, and had neither time nor temper for the business, until first I should come to my home. And, indeed, I was sick and tired of the sad history belonging to that casket, and was not without fears that it might, even yet, bring me into trouble. And when I came home to my house below Penpole Heights there was yet a greater shock and trouble for me. For your mother, my son, was gone, and you were left, a weak

wailing babe, in her place. She had died in giving you birth. My wife left a message that she hoped that I would not bring you up to a seafaring life. And, perhaps, in the tossing of my dreams, I had used strange words which had let her too much into the secrets of the past, from which a pure and quiet woman would naturally


'And now I am a poor decrepid man, and the sundial of my days is darkening fast. And I sometimes go to those hot wells at Clifton, not far from here, to see if they will restore me; and there I creep slowly beneath the huge cliffs where the sunshine strikes warm from the rock. I am not without a hope that I may yet meet your mother, my good Agnes and good angel. For albeit I am the worst of sinners next to John Morgan-and, indeed, I may be far worse than he, for he never had good mother or good wife that I heard of, such as have been mineyet I know that there are no sins which may not be forgiven through the Redeemer, to whom I acted so badly in my best days, when I was well and strong, and who has treated me so kindly in my worst, when I am weak and ailing and dying. But I leave these lines for you, my boy, who will not be able to read them until I am dead and gone, that I may give effect to your mother's thoughts respecting you, and that you may know and avoid the hardships and temptations of a seafaring life.


Thus ended this remarkable and memorable letter, which I here insert for the sake of very curious circumstances which happened afterwards.

I remember so well the first Christmas-eve that I spent with the Delormes after the memorable

summer evening in which we first read the pirate's manuscript. It was a pleasant Christmas-eve, but Flora looked sad, and Jack found out that things were not going very well with the Delormes: the short supplies of money were shorter even than had been expected, and that there was much difficulty in meeting those bills which Christmas always brings with it. So Jack and I each contrived a hamper, he of fish and I of fowl and game, which we sent them with the compliments of the season, and we had in return been duly invited to partake thereof on the Christmas-eve. By this time I was following very fast on the precedent set by Jack, and if I was not formally engaged to Fanny, was very much on the way towards it. Those dear genial old Delormes thought it the most natural thing in the world that young people should fall in love with each other and come together in good time, and had no idea in the world that their two lovely daughters were, in fact, disguised princesses, and were a great deal too good for the likes of me and Jack.

Somehow our talk that Christmas eve went back to the manuscript of the old repentant pirate.

How I should like some of the old rascal's diamonds to put in my hair to-night!' said my Fanny.

'My mouth quite watered when he talked about the silks,' exclaimed Flora. They have gone into dust anyhow.'

And only to think,' said Jack philosophically, of that little beggar of a child to whom he left the letter being the great-great-greatgrandfather of you young ladies.'

'And the letter itself being read about once in a hundred years,' said Flora. 'Papa dear, wouldn't you like to give your children a lot of diamonds to wear in the evenings at their little parties?'

'Diamonds,' said Jack, 'are all rubbish. The difference between a diamond and a coal is an accident of an accident. You may set it on fire, and it will go off in a thin vapour and a rather pungent smell.'

'Still if I had them,' said Delorme pére, you gentlemen should not smoke them away, nor you girls wear them in your hair. I would buy an estate with them. I knew a diamond necklace sold across a jeweller's counter for twenty-five thousand pounds.'

At this moment a sudden flash of inspiration darted through my mind.

Suppose that casket of diamonds is still in existence, all fastened up and sealed, and waiting for the representative of the proper owner to claim it.'

'O, that would be too lovely! said Fanny. You don't suppose that a lot of diamonds would go begging about the world for two or three centuries.'

Besides,' said Jack, the diamonds have been turned into money hundreds of years ago, and the money has been all spent. And of course the Statute of Limitations would bar all claim.'

'Besides,' said Flora, I have got hold of the idea that the famous letter may be no real letter at all. It may be somebody indulging in an attempt at British fiction.'

'I never heard of any one impugning the authenticity of the letter,' said Mr. Delorme. The letter's right enough.'

[ocr errors]

Hitherto I had only known of the letter through the copy. I now asked for and obtained a sight of the original. The obscure characters, so quaintly formed, left no doubt of the comparative antiquity.

That night I fell into a train of thought upon the subject. The letter was doubtless genuine. The

« ForrigeFortsæt »