Willis the Pilot by Johanna Spyri
Delhi--William of Normandy and King John--Isabella of Bavaria and Joan of Arc--Poitier and Bovines--History of a Ghost, a Gridiron, and a Chest of Guineas.
At first the three adventurers were regarded as prisoners of war; when, however, their entire history came to be known, and their extraordinary migrations from ship to ship authenticated, they were looked upon as guests, and treated as friends.
"I thought I had only obtained possession of an English cruiser," said the captain; "but I find I have also acquired the right of being useful to you."
The commander of the Boudeuse was a very different sort of a person from Commodore Truncheon; the former treated his men as if every one of them had a title and great influence at the Admiralty, whilst the latter swore at his crew as if the word of command could not be understood without a supplementary oath. The English commodore might be the better sailor of the two, but certainly the French captain carried off the palm as regards politeness, urbanity, and gentlemanly bearing.
The wounds of Fritz and Jack were healing rapidly under the skilful treatment of the French surgeon, and, with a lift from Willis, they were able to walk a portion of the day on deck. With reviving health, their cheerful hopes of the future returned, their dormant spirits were re-awakened, and their minds regained their wonted animation.
"The corvette spins along admirably," said the Pilot, "and is steering straight for the Bay of Biscay."
"Ah!" said Jack sighing, "it is very easy to steer for a place, but it is not quite so easy to get there. I am sick of your friend the sea, Willis; and would give my largest pearl for a glimpse of a town, a village, or even a street."
"If you want to see a street in all its glory, Master Jack, you must try and get the captain to alter his course for Delhi."
"But I should think, Willis, that there is nothing in the street-scenery of Delhi to compare with the Boulevards of Paris, Regent-street in London, or the Broadway of New York."
"Beg your pardon there, Master Jack; I know every shop window in Regent-street; I have often been nearly run over in the Broadway, and can easily imagine the turn out on the Boulevards; but they are solitudes in comparison with an Indian street."
"How so, Willis?"
"Well, it is not that there are more inhabitants, nor on account of the traffic, for no streets in the world will beat those of London in that respect--it is because the people live, move, and have their being in the streets; they eat, drink, and sleep in the streets; they sing, dance, and pray in the streets; conventions, treaties, and alliances are concluded in the streets; in short, the street is the Indians' home, his club, and his temple. In Europe, transactions are negotiated quietly; in India, nothing can be done without roaring, screaming, and bawling."
"There must be plenty of deaf people there," observed Jack.
"Possibly; but there are no dumb people. Added to the endless vociferations of the human voice, there is an eternal barking of dogs, elephants snorting, cows lowing, and myriads of pigs grunting. Then there is the thump, thump of the tam-tam, the whistling of fifes, and the screeching of a horrible instrument resembling a fiddle, which can only be compared with the Belzebub music of Hawai. If, amongst these discordant sounds, you throw in a cloud of mosquitoes and a hurricane of dust, you will have a tolerable idea of an Indian street."
"There may be animation and life enough, Willis, but I should prefer the monotony of Regent-street for all that. Would you like to air yourself in Paris a bit?"
"Yes, but not just now; the less my countrymen see of France, under present circumstances, the better."
"What is England and France always fighting about, Willis?"
"Well, I believe the cause this time to be a shindy the mounseers got up amongst themselves in 1788. They first cut off the head of their king, and then commenced to cut one another's throats, and England interfered."
"That," observed Fritz, "may be the immediate origin of the present war . But for the cause of the animosity existing between the two nations, you must, I suspect, go back as far as the eleventh century, to the time of William, Duke of Normandy."
"What had he to do with it?"
"A great deal. He claimed a right, real or pretended, to the English throne. He crossed the Channel, and, in 1066, defeated Harold, King of England, at the battle of Hastings."
"Both William and Harold were originally Danes, were they not?" inquired Jack.
"Yes; I think Rollo, William's grandfather, was a Norman adventurer, or sea-king, as these marauders were sometimes called. William, after the victory of Hastings, proclaimed himself King of England and Duke of Normandy, and assumed the designation of William the Conqueror."
"Then how did France get mixed up in the affair?" inquired Willis.
"William's grandfather, when he seized the dukedom cf Normandy, became virtually a vassal of the King of France, though it is doubtful whether he ever took the trouble to recognize the suzerainty of the throne. As sovereign, however, the King of France claimed the right of homage, which consisted, according to feudal usage, in the vassal advancing, bare-headed, without sword or spurs, and kneeling at the foot of the throne."
"Was this right ever enforced?"
"Yes, in one case at least. John Lackland--or, as the French called him, John Sans Terre--having assassinated his nephew Arthur, Duke of Brittany, in order to obtain possession of his lands, was summoned by Philip Augustus, King of France, to justify his crime. John did not obey the summons, was declared guilty of felony, and Philip took possession of Normandy. Thus the first step to hostilities was laid down."
"The English having lost Normandy, the vassalage ceased."
"Yes, so far as regards Normandy; but, in the meantime, Louis le Jeune, King of France, unfortunately divorced his wife, Elenor of Aquitaine, who afterwards married an English prince, and added Guienne, another French dukedom to the English crown."
"So another vassalage sprung up."
"Exactly. All the French King insisted upon was the homage; but Edward III. of England, instead of bending his knee to Philip of Valois, argued with himself in this way: 'If I were King of England and France as well, the claim of homage for the dukedom of Guienne would be extinguished.'"
"Rather cool that," said Jack, laughing.
"'We shall then,' Edward said to himself, 'be our own sovereign, and do homage to ourself, which would save a deal of bother.'"
"Well, he was right there, at least," remarked the Pilot.
"The King of France, however, entertained a different view of the subject. Hence arose an endless succession of sieges, battles, conquests, defeats, exterminations, and hatreds, which, no doubt, gave rise to the ill-feeling that exists at present between England and France. It is curious, at the same time, to observe what mischief individual acts may occasion. If William of Normandy had remained contented with his dukedom, and Louis le Jeune had not divorced his wife, France would not have lost the disastrous battles of Agincourt and Poitiers."
"Nor gained the brilliant victory of Bovines," suggested Jack.
"Certainly not; but she would have been spared the indignity of having one of her kings marched through the streets of London as a prisoner."
"True; but, on the other hand, the captured monarch would not have had an opportunity of illustrating the laws of honor in his own person. He returned loyally to England and resumed his chains, when he found that the enormous sum demanded by England for his ransom would impoverish his people: otherwise he could not have given birth to the maxim, 'That though good faith be banished from all the world beside, it ought still to be found in the hearts of kings.'"
"One of the kings of Scotland," remarked Willis, "was placed in a similar position. The Scottish army had been cut to pieces at the battle of Flodden, the king was captured in his harness, conveyed to London, and the people had to pay a great deal more to obtain his freedom than he was worth. But, before that, the Scotch nearly caught one of the Edwards. This time the English army had been cut to pieces; but the king did not wait to be captured, he took to his heels, or rather to his horse's hoofs. He was beautifully mounted, and followed by half a dozen Scottish troopers; away he went, over hill and dale, ditch and river. Dick Turpin's ride from London to York was nothing to it. The king proved himself to be a first-rate horseman, for, after being chased this way over half the country, he succeeded in baffling his pursuers. All these escapades between England and Scotland are, however, forgotten now, or at least ought to be; there are, doubtless, a few thick-headed persons in both sections of the empire who delight in keeping alive old prejudices, but they will die out in time."
"It seems, however, they have not died away yet," said Fritz, "in so far as regards France and England, since the two countries are at war again. But, as I observed before, had it not been for the ambition of William and the anti-connubial propensities of John, the English would never have been masters of Paris, and a great part of France under Charles VI."
"Still, in that case," persisted Jack, "Charles VII. would not have had the opportunity of liberating his country."
"Then," continued Fritz, "history would not have had to record the shameless deeds of Isabella of Bavaria."
"Nor chronicle the brilliant achievements of Joan of Arc," added Jack.
"Any how," observed Willis, "the mounseers are a curious people. I have heard it remarked that they are occupied all day long in getting themselves into scrapes, and that Providence busies herself all night in getting them out again."
By chatting in this way, Fritz, his brother, and the Pilot contrived to relieve the monotony of the voyage, and to pass away the time pleasantly enough. Each contributed his quota to the common fund; Fritz his judgment, Jack his humor, and Willis his practical experience, strong good sense, and vigorous, though untutored understanding. A portion of Jack's time was passed with the surgeon, between whom a great intimacy had sprung up. Time did not, therefore, hang heavily on the hands of the young men; for even during the night their thoughts were busy forming projects, or in embroidering the canvas of the future with those fairy designs which youth alone can create.
One morning Willis arrived on deck, pale, and with an air of fatigue and lassitude altogether unusual. He gazed anxiously into every nook and cranny of the ship.
"Whatever is the matter, Willis?" inquired Jack. "Have you seen the Flying Dutchman?"
"No, Master Jack," said he in a forlorn tone; "but I have either seen the captain or his ghost."
"What! the captain of the Hoboken?"
"No; the captain of the Nelson."
"In a dream?"
"No, my eyes were as wide open as they are now; he looked into my cabin, and spoke to me."
"I assure you it is the case though, impossible or not."
"Where is he then?" exclaimed both the young men, starting.
"That I know not; I have looked for him everywhere."
"What did he say to you?"
"At first he said, How d'ye do, Willis?"
"Naturally; and what then?"
"He asked me what I thought of the cloud that was gathering in the south-west."
"But look there, you can see a storm is gathering in that quarter."
"The nightmare, Willis. But what did you say to him?"
"I could not answer at the moment; my tongue clove to the roof of my mouth, and I rose to take hold of his hand."
"Then he disappeared, did he not?"
"Yes, Master Jack."
"I thought so."
"But I heard the door of my cabin shut behind him, as distinctly as I now hear the waves breaking on the sides of the corvette at this moment."
"You ought to have run after him."
"I did so."
"Well, did you catch him?"
"No; I was stopped by the watch, for I had nothing on me but my shirt; the officers stared, the sailors laughed, and the doctor felt my pulse. But, for all that, I am satisfied there is a mystery somewhere."
"But, Willis, the thing is altogether improbable."
"Well, look here; Captain Littlestone is either dead or alive, is he not?"
"Yes," replied Jack, "there can be no medium between these hypotheses."
"Then all I can say is this, that as sure as I am a living sinner, I have seen him if he is alive, and, if he is dead, I have seen his ghost."
"You believe in visitations from the other world then, Willis?"
"I cannot discredit the evidences of my own senses, can I?"
"No, certainly not."
"Besides, this brings to my recollection a similar circumstance that happened to an old comrade of mine. Sam Walker is as fine a fellow as ever lived, he sailed with me on board the Norfolk, and I know him to be incapable of telling a falsehood. Though his name is Sam Walker, we used to call him 'Hot Codlins.'"
"Because he had an old woman with a child tatooed on his arm, instead of an anchor, as is usual in the navy."
"A portrait of Notre Dame de Bon Lecours, I shouldn't wonder," said Jack; "but what had that to do with hot codlins: a codlin is a fish, is it not?"
"I will explain that another time," said Willis, the shadow of a smile passing over his pale features. "The short and the long of the story is, that Sam once saw a ghost."
"Well, tell us all about it, Willis."
"But I am afraid you will not believe the story if I do."
"On the contrary, I promise to believe it in advance."
"Very well, Master Jack. Did you ever see a windmill?"
"No, but I know what sort of things they are from description."
"There are none in Scotland," continued Willis; "at least I never saw one there."
"How do they manage to grind their corn then? There should be oats in the land o' cakes, at all events," said Jack, with a smile.
"Well, in countries that have plenty of water, they can dispense with mills on land. Though there are no wind-mills in Scotland, there are some in the county of Durham, on the borders of England, for it appears my mate Sam was born in one of them. His father and mother died when he was very young, and he, conjointly with the rats, was left sole owner and occupant of the mill. Some of the neighboring villagers, seeing the poor boy left in this forlorn condition, got him into a charity school, whence he was bound apprentice to a shipmaster engaged in the coal trade, by whom he was sent to sea. The ship young Sam sailed in was wrecked on the coast of France, and he fell into the hands of a fisherman, who put the mark on his arm we used to joke him about."
"I thought so," said Jack; "the mark in question represents the patron saint of French sailors."
"After a variety of ups and downs, Sam found himself rated as a first-class seaman on board a British man-of-war. He served with myself on board the Norfolk, and was wounded at the battle of Trafalgar , which, I dare say, you have heard of."
"Yes, Willis, it was there that your Admiral Nelson covered himself with immortal renown."
"There and elsewhere, Master Fritz."
"It cost him his life, however, Willis, and likewise shortened those of the French Admiral Villeneuve and the Spanish Admiral Gravina; that, you must admit, is too many eggs for one omelet."
"As you once said yourself, great victories are not won without loss, and the battle of Trafalgar was no exception to the rule. Sam, having been wounded, was sent to the hospital, and when his wound was healed, he was allowed leave of absence to recruit his strength, so he thought he would take a run to Durham and see how it fared with the paternal windmill. Time had, of course, wrought many changes both outside and in, but it still remained perched grimly on its pedestal, but now entirely abandoned to the bats and owls. The sails were gone, and the woodwork was slowly crumbling away; but the basement being of hewn granite, it was still in a tolerable state of preservation. The place, however, was said to be haunted; exactly at twelve o'clock at night dismal howls were heard by the villagers to issue from the mill. According to the blacksmith, who was a great authority in such matters, Sam's father was a very avaricious old fellow, and had hid his money somewhere about the building; and you know, Master Jack, that when a man dies and leaves his money concealed, there is no rest for him in his grave till it is discovered."
"I really was not aware of it before," replied Jack; "but I am delighted to hear it."
"When Sam arrived, nobody disputed his title to the property, except the ghost; but Sam had seen a good deal of hard service, and declared that he would not be choused out of his patrimony for all the ghosts in the parish; and, in spite of the persuasions of the villagers, resolved to take up his abode there forthwith. Sam accordingly laid in a supply of stores, including a month's supply of tobacco and rum. He first made the place water-tight, then made a fire sufficient to roast an ox, and when night arrived made a jorum of grog, a little stiff, to keep away the damp. This done, he lit his pipe, and began to cook a steak for his supper. The old mill, for the first time since the decease of the former proprietor, was filled with the savory odor of roast beef."
"And there are worse odors than that," remarked Jack. "Whilst the steak was frizzling, he took a swig at the grog; and, thinking one side was done, he gave the gridiron a twist, which sent the steak a little way up the chimney, and, strange to say, it never came down again.
"'Ten thousand What's-a-names,' cried Sam, 'where's my steak?'
"No answer was vouchsafed to this query; he looked up the chimney, and could see no one."
"The steak had really disappeared then?" said Jack, inquiringly.
"Yes, not a fragment remained; but he had more beef, so he cut off another; and, as his head had got a little middled with the grog, he thought it just possible that he might have capsized the gridiron into the fire, so he quietly recommenced the operation."
"And the second steak disappeared like the first?" "Yes, Master Fritz, with this difference--there was a dead man's thigh-bone in its place."
"An awkward transformation for a hungry man," said Jack.
"'Here's a go!' cried Sam, like to burst his sides with laughing, 'they expect to frighten me with bones, do they? they've got the wrong man--been played too many tricks of that kind at sea to be scared by that sort of thing. Ha, ha, ha! capital joke though.'"
"Your friend Sam must have been a merry fellow, Willis."
"Yes, but he was hungry, and wanted his supper; so he continued supplying the gridiron with steaks as long as the beef lasted, but only obtained human shin-bones, clavicles and tibias.
"'Never mind,' said Sam to himself, 'they will tire of this game in course of time.'
"When the beef was done, he kept up a supply of rashers of bacon, and threw the bones as they appeared in a corner, consoling himself in the meantime with his pipe and his grog."
"He must have been both patient and persevering," remarked Jack.
"This went on till a skull appeared on the gridiron."
"A singular object to sup upon," observed Jack.
"'I wonder what the deuce will come next,' said Sam to himself, throwing the skull amongst the rest of the bones.
"The next time, however, he took the gridiron off the fire, there was his last rasher done to a turn.
"'Now,' said Sam, 'I am going to have peace and quietness at last.'
"He sat down then very comfortably, and kept eating and drinking, and drinking and smoking, till the village clock struck twelve."
"Good!" cried Jack. "You may come in now, ladies and gentlemen; the performance is just a-going to begin."
"Sam heard a succession of crack cracks amongst the bones, and turning round he beheld a frightful-looking spectre, pointing with its finger to the door."
"Was it wrapped up in a white sheet?" inquired Jack.
"Yes, I rather think it was."
"Very well, then, I believe the story; for spectres are invariably wrapped up in white sheets."
"The bones, instead of remaining quietly piled up in the corner, had joined themselves together--the leg bones to the feet, the ribs to the back-bone--and the skull had stuck itself on the top. Where the flesh came from, Sam could not tell; but he strongly suspected that his own steaks and bacon had something to do with it. But, be that as it may, there was not half enough of fat to cover the bones, and the figure was dreadfully thin. Sam stared at first in astonishment, and began to doubt whether he saw aright. When, however, he beheld the figure move, there could be no mistake, and he knew at once that it was a ghost. Anybody else would have been frightened out of their senses, but Sam took the matter philososophically and went on with his supper.
"'How d'ye do, old fellow?' he said to the spectre. 'Will you have a mouthful of grog to warm your inside? Sit down, and be sociable.'
"The spectre did not make any reply, but continued making a sign for Sam to follow.
"'If you prefer to stand and keep beckoning there till to-morrow you may, but, if I were in your place, I would come nearer the fire,' said Sam; 'you may catch cold standing there without your shirt, you know.'
"The same silence and the same gesture continued on the part of the ghost, and Sam, seeing that his words produced no effect, recommenced eating."
"There is one thing," remarked Jack, "more astonishing about your friend Sam than his coolness, and that is his appetite."
"The spectre did not appear satisfied with the state of affairs, for it assumed a threatening attitude and strode towards the fire-place.
"'Avast heaving, old fellow,' cried Sam, 'there is one thing I have got to say, which is this here: you may stand and hoist signals there as long as ever you like; but if you touch me, then look out for squalls, that's all.'
"The 'old fellow,' however, paid no attention to this caution. He strode right up to the fire-place, and, whilst pointing to the door with one hand, grasped Sam's arm with the other. Sam started up, shook off the hand that held him, and pitched into the spectre right and left. But, strange to say, his hands went right through its bones and all, just as if it had been made of the hydrogen gas you spoke of the other day. Sam saw that it was no use laying about him in this fashion, for the spectre stood grinning at him all the time, so he gave it up.
"'I wish,' said he, 'you would be off, and go to bed, and not keep bothering there.'
"Still the spectre maintained the same posture, and kept pertinaciously pointing to the door.
"'Well,' said Sam, 'since you insist upon it, let us see what there is outside. Go a-head, I will follow.'
"The spectre led him into what used to be the garden of the mill, but the enclosure was now overgrown with rank and poisonous weeds. There was a path running through it paved with flagstones; the spectre pointed with its finder to one of them. Sam stooped down, and, much to his astonishment, raised it with ease. Beneath there was an iron chest, the lid of which he also opened, and saw that it was filled with old spade guineas and Spanish dollars.
"'You behold that treasure!' said the spectre, in a hollow voice.
"'Ha, ha, old fellow! you can speak, can you? Now we shall understand each other. Yes, I see a box, filled with what looks very like gold and silver coins.'
"'I placed that treasure there before my death,' added the spectre.
"'Ah, so! than you are dead?' said Sam.
"'One half of that money I wish you to give to the poor, and the other half you may keep to yourself, if you choose.'
"'Golley!' said Sam, 'you are not much of a swab after all, though you look as thin as a purser's clerk. Give us a shake of your paw, my hearty.'
"Here Sam, somehow or other, stumbled over the lamp, and when he got up again the spectre had vanished. He laid hold of the chest, however, and groped his way back to the mill. When safe inside, he made a stiff jorum of grog, and then fell comfortably asleep. That night he dreamt that he was eating gold and silver, that he was his own captain, that the cat-o'-nine tails was entirely abolished in the navy, and that his ship, instead of sailing in salt water was floating in rum. When he awoke, the sun was steaming through all the nooks and crannies of the old mill. All the marks of the preceding night's adventures were there--the gridiron, the empty rum jar, the the table o'erturned in the melee with the ghost--but the chest of money was gone."
"And what did Sam conclude from that incident?" inquired Fritz.
"Well, he supposed that he had slept rather long, and that somebody had come in before he as up and had walked off with the box."
"If I had been in his place," continued Fritz, "I should have said to myself that the mind often gives birth to strange fancies, particularly after a heavy supper, and that I had muddled my brain with rum; consequently, that all the things I imagined I had seen were only the chimeras of a dream."
"But that could not be, Master Fritz, for two reasons; the first, that the mark of the ghost's hand remained on his arm."
"Very likely burnt it when he grilled the bacon."
"The second, that the ghost was no more seen or heard of in the mill."
"That proof is a poser for you, brother, I think," said Jack.
"Did you heave that sigh just now, Master Fritz?" inquired Willis, in a low tone.
"It was not I," said Fritz, looking at his brother.
"Nor I," said Jack, looking at Willis.
"Nor I," said Willis, looking behind him.