A Message from the Sea

A Message from the Sea

A MESSAGE FROM THE SEA CHARLES DICKENS CHAPTER I--THE VILLAGE "And a mighty sing'lar and pretty place it is as ever I saw in all the days of my life!" said Captain Jorgan looking up at it. Captain Jorgan had to look high to look at it for the village was built sheer up the face of a steep and lofty cliff. There was no road in it there was no wheeled vehicle in it there was not a level yard in it. From the sea-beach to the cliff-top two irregular rows of white houses placed opposite to one another and twisting here and there and there and here rose like the sides of a long succession of stages of crooked ladders and you climbed up the village or climbed down the village by the staves between some six feet wide or so and made of sharp irregular stones. The old pack- saddle long laid aside in most parts of England as one of the appendages of its infancy flourished here intact. Strings of pack- horses and pack-donkeys toiled slowly up the staves of the ladders bearing fish and coal and such other cargo as was unshipping at the pier from the dancing fleet of village boats and from two or three little coasting traders. As the beasts of burden ascended laden or descended light they got so lost at intervals in the floating clouds of village smoke that they seemed to dive down some of the village chimneys and come to the surface again far off high above others. No two houses in the village were alike in chimney size shape door window gable roof-tree anything. The sides of the ladders were musical with water running clear and bright. The staves were musical with the clattering feet of the pack-horses and pack-donkeys and the voices of the fishermen urging them up mingled with the voices of the fishermen's wives and their many children. The pier was musical with the wash of the sea the creaking of capstans and windlasses and the airy fluttering of little vanes and sails. The rough sea-bleached boulders of which the pier was made and the whiter boulders of the shore were brown with drying nets. The red-brown cliffs richly wooded to their extremest verge had their softened and beautiful forms reflected in the bluest water under the clear North Devonshire sky of a November day without a cloud. The village itself was so steeped in autumnal foliage from the houses lying on the pier to the topmost round of the topmost ladder that one might have fancied it was out a bird's- nesting and was (as indeed it was) a wonderful climber. And mentioning birds the place was not without some music from them too; for the rook was very busy on the higher levels and the gull with his flapping wings was fishing in the bay and the lusty little robin was hopping among the great stone blocks and iron rings of the breakwater fearless in the faith of his ancestors and the Children in the Wood. Thus it came to pass that Captain Jorgan sitting balancing himself on the pier-wall struck his leg with his open hand as some men do when they are pleased--and as he always did when he was pleased--and said - "A mighty sing'lar and pretty place it is as ever I saw in all the days of my life!" Captain Jorgan had not been through the village but had come down to the pier by a winding side-road to have a preliminary look at it from the level of his own natural element. He had seen many things and places and had stowed them all away in a shrewd intellect and a vigorous memory. He was an American born was Captain Jorgan--a New-Englander--but he was a citizen of the world and a combination of most of the best qualities of most of its best countries. For Captain Jorgan to sit anywhere in his long-skirted blue coat and blue trousers without holding converse with everybody within speaking distance was a sheer impossibility. So the captain fell to talking with the fishermen and to asking them knowing questions about the fishery and the tides and the currents and the race of water off that point yonder and what you kept in your eye and got into a line with what else when you ran into the little harbour; and other nautical profundities. Among the men who exchanged ideas with the captain was a young fellow who exactly hit his fancy--a young fisherman of two or three and twenty in the rough sea-dress of his craft with a brown face dark curling hair and bright modest eyes under his Sou'wester hat and with a frank but simple and retiring manner which the captain found uncommonly taking. "I'd bet a thousand dollars" said the captain to himself "that your father was an honest man!" "Might you be married now?" asked the captain when he had had some talk with this new acquaintance. "Not yet." "Going to be?" said the captain. "I hope so." The captain's keen glance followed the slightest possible turn of the dark eye and the slightest possible tilt of the Sou'wester hat. The captain then slapped both his legs and said to himself - "Never knew such a good thing in all my life! There's his sweetheart looking over the wall!" There was a very pretty girl looking over the wall from a little platform of cottage vine and fuchsia; and she certainly dig not look as if the presence of this young fisherman in the landscape made it any the less sunny and hopeful for her. Captain Jorgan having doubled himself up to laugh with that hearty good-nature which is quite exultant in the innocent happiness of other people had undoubted himself and was going to start a new subject when there appeared coming down the lower ladders of stones a man whom he hailed as "Tom Pettifer Ho!" Tom Pettifer Ho responded with alacrity and in speedy course descended on the pier. "Afraid of a sun-stroke in England in November Tom that you wear your tropical hat strongly paid outside and paper-lined inside here?" said the captain eyeing it. "It's as well to be on the safe side sir" replied Tom. "Safe side!" repeated the captain laughing. "You'd guard against a sun-stroke with that old hat in an Ice Pack. Wa'al! What have you made out at the Post-office?" "It is the Post-office sir." "What's the Post-office?" said the captain. "The name sir. The name keeps the Post-office." "A coincidence!" said the captain. "A lucky bit! Show me where it is. Good-bye shipmates for the present! I shall come and have another look at you afore I leave this afternoon." This was addressed to all there but especially the young fisherman; so all there acknowledged it but especially the young fisherman. "He's a sailor!" said one to another as they looked after the captain moving away. That he was; and so outspeaking was the sailor in him that although his dress had nothing nautical about it with the single exception of its colour but was a suit of a shore-going shape and form too long in the sleeves and too short in the legs and too unaccommodating everywhere terminating earthward in a pair of Wellington boots and surmounted by a tall stiff hat which no mortal could have worn at sea in any wind under heaven; nevertheless a glimpse of his sagacious weather-beaten face or his strong brown hand would have established the captain's calling. Whereas Mr. Pettifer--a man of a certain plump neatness with a curly whisker and elaborately nautical in a jacket and shoes and all things correspondent--looked no more like a seaman beside Captain Jorgan than he looked like a sea-serpent. The two climbed high up the village--which had the most arbitrary turns and twists in it so that the cobbler's house came dead across the ladder and to have held a reasonable course you must have gone through his house and through him too as he sat at his work between two little windows--with one eye microscopically on the geological formation of that part of Devonshire and the other telescopically on the open sea--the two climbed high up the village and stopped before a quaint little house on which was painted "MRS. RAYBROCK DRAPER;" and also "POST-OFFICE." Before it ran a rill of murmuring water and access to it was gained by a little plank-bridge. "Here's the name" said Captain Jorgan "sure enough. You can come in if you like Tom." The captain opened the door and passed into an odd little shop about six feet high with a great variety of beams and bumps in the ceiling and besides the principal window giving on the ladder of stones a purblind little window of a single pane of glass peeping out of an abutting corner at the sun-lighted ocean and winking at its brightness. "How do you do ma'am?" said the captain. "I am very glad to see you. I have come a long way to see you." "Have you sir? Then I am sure I am very glad to see you though I don't know you from Adam." Thus a comely elderly woman short of stature plump of form sparkling and dark of eye who perfectly clean and neat herself stood in the midst of her perfectly clean and neat arrangements and surveyed Captain Jorgan with smiling curiosity. "Ah! but you are a sailor sir" she added almost immediately and with a slight movement of her hands that was not very unlike wringing them; "then you are heartily welcome." "Thank'ee ma'am" said the captain "I don't know what it is I am sure; that brings out the salt in me but everybody seems to see it on the crown of my hat and the collar of my coat. Yes ma'am I am in that way of life." "And the other gentleman too" said Mrs. Raybrock. "Well now ma'am" said the captain glancing shrewdly at the other gentleman "you are that nigh right that he goes to sea--if that makes him a sailor. This is my steward ma'am Tom Pettifer; he's been a'most all trades you could name in the course of his life-- would have bought all your chairs and tables once if you had wished to sell 'em--but now he's my steward. My name's Jorgan and I'm a ship-owner and I sail my own and my partners' ships and have done so this five-and-twenty year. According to custom I am called Captain Jorgan but I am no more a captain bless your heart than you are." "Perhaps you'll come into my parlour sir and take a chair?" said Mrs. Raybrock. "Ex-actly what I was going to propose myself ma'am. After you." Thus replying and enjoining Tom to give an eye to the shop Captain Jorgan followed Mrs. Raybrock into the little low back-room-- decorated with divers plants in pots tea-trays old china teapots and punch-bowls--which was at once the private sitting-room of the Raybrock family and the inner cabinet of the post-office of the village of Steepways. "Now ma'am" said the captain "it don't signify a cent to you where I was born except--" But here the shadow of some one entering fell upon the captain's figure and he broke off to double himself up slap both his legs and ejaculate "Never knew such a thing in all my life! Here he is again! How are you?" These words referred to the young fellow who had so taken Captain Jorgan's fancy down at the pier. To make it all quite complete he came in accompanied by the sweetheart whom the captain had detected looking over the wall. A prettier sweetheart the sun could not have shone upon that shining day. As she stood before the captain with ...