Chapter XXVII.
 

Captain Littlestone is found, and the Rev. Mr. Wolston is seen for the first time.

Jack, on arriving at the hotel, ascertained the number of the room in which Captain Littlestone was located. In his hurry to see his old friend, the young man did not stop to knock at the door, but entered without ceremony, with Fritz and Willis at his heels. They found themselves in the presence of two gentlemen, one of whom sat with his face buried in his hands, the other was reading what appeared to be a small bible.

The latter was a young man seemingly of about twenty-four or twenty-five years of age. He had a mild but noble bearing, and his aspect denoted habitual meditation. His eyes were remarkably piercing and expressive; in short, he was one of those men at whom we are led involuntarily to cast a glance of respect, without very well knowing why; perhaps it might be owing to the gravity of his demeanour, perhaps to the peculiar decorum of his deportment, or perhaps to the scrupulous propriety of his dress. He raised his eyes from the book he held in his hand, and gazed tranquilly at the three figures who had so abruptly interrupted his reveries.

"May I inquire," said he, "to what we owe this intrusion on our privacy, gentlemen?"

"We have to apologise for our rudeness," said Fritz; "but are you not the Rev. Mr. Wolston?"

"My name is Charles Wolston, and I am a minister of the gospel, and missionary of the church."

"Then, sir," continued Fritz, "I am the bearer of a message from your father."

"From my father!" exclaimed the missionary, starting up; "you come then from the Pacific Ocean?"

Here the second gentleman raised his head, and looked as if he had just awakened from a dream. He gazed at the speakers with a puzzled air.

"Do you know me, captain?" said Willis.

Littlestone, for it was he, continued to gaze in mute astonishment, as if the events of the past had been defiling through his memory; and he probably thought that the figures before him were mere phantom creations of his brain.

"Willis! can it be possible?" he exclaimed, taking at the same time the Pilot's proffered hand.

"Yes, captain, as you see."

"And the two young Beckers, as I live!" cried Littlestone.

"Yes," said Jack, "and delighted to find you at last."

Littlestone then shook them all heartily by the hand.

"It is but a poor welcome that I, a prisoner in the enemy's country, can give you to Europe; still I am truly overjoyed to see you. But where have you all come from?"

"From New Switzerland," replied Jack.

"But how?"

"By sea."

"That, of course; and I presume another ship anchored in Safety Bay?"

"No, captain. Seeing you did not return to us, we embarked in the pinnace and came in search of you."

"Your pinnace was but indifferently calculated to weather a gale, keeping out of view the other dangers incidental to such a voyage."

"True, captain; but my brother and I, with Willis for a pilot and Providence for a guardian, ventured to brave these perils; and here we are, as you see."

"And your mother consented to such a dangerous proceeding, did she?"

"It was for her, and yet against her will, that we embarked on the voyage."

"I do not understand."

"For her, because, when we left, she was dying."

"Dying, say you?"

"Yes, and our object in coming to Europe was chiefly to obtain surgical aid."

"And have you found a surgeon?"

"Not yet, but we are in hopes of finding one."

"If money is wanted, besides the value of the cargo I landed for you at the Cape, you may command my purse."

"A thousand thanks, captain, but the merchandise we have here is likely to be sufficient for our purpose. Unfortunately, gold is not the only thing that is requisite."

"What, then?"

"In the first place, a disinterested love of humanity is needful; there are few men of science and skill who would not risk more than they would gain by accepting any offer we can make. It is not easy to find the heart of a son in the body of a physician."

"What, then, will you do, my poor friend?"

"That is my secret, captain."

During this conversation, the missionary had put a thousand questions to Willis and Fritz relative to his father, mother, and sisters, and a smile now and then lit up his features as Fritz related some of the family mishaps.

"You must have undergone some hardships in your voyage from the antipodes to Havre de Grace," said Littlestone to Jack, "notwithstanding the skill of my friend the Pilot."

"Yes, captain, a few," replied Jack. "I myself made a narrow escape from being killed and eaten by a couple of savages."

"And how did you escape?"

"Providence interfered at the critical moment."

"Well, so I should imagine."

"Our friend the Pilot was more fortunate; he was abducted by the natives of Hawaii; but, instead of converting him into mincemeat, they transformed him into a divinity, bore him along in triumph to a temple, where he was perfumed with incense, and had sacrifices offered up to him."

"Willis must have felt himself highly honored," said the captain, smiling.

"These fine things did not, however, last long, for next day they were wound up with a cloud of arrows."

"And another interposition of Providence?"

"Yes, none of the arrows were winged with death."

"After that," remarked Willis, "we fell in with a Yankee cruiser, were taken on board, and carried into the latitude of the Bahamas, where we fell in with Old Flyblow, who, after a tough set-to, sent the Yankee a prize to Bermuda, and took us on board as passengers."

"And," added Jack, "whilst we were under protection of the American flag, Willis fell in with a certain Bill Stubbs, who was shot in the fight and died of his wounds. This trifling accident did not, however, prevent Willis falling in with him alive in Havre."

"You still seem to delight in paradoxes, Master Jack," said the captain.

"The English cruiser," continued Jack, "was afterwards captured by a French corvette, on which it appears you were on board incognito."

"What! I on board?"

"Yes; ask Willis."

"If you were not, captain, how could you come to my cabin every night and ask me questions?" inquired the latter.

At this point, a shade of anxiety crossed Littlestone's features; he turned and looked at the missionary--the missionary looked at Fritz--Fritz stared at his brother--Jack gazed at Willis--and Willis, with a puzzled air, regarded everybody in turn.

"At last," continued Jack, "after experiencing a variety of both good and bad fortune, sometimes vanquished and sometimes the victors, first wounded, then cured, we arrived here in Havre, where, for a time, we were plunged into the deepest poverty; we were blacksmiths and carpenters by turns, and thought ourselves fortunate when we had a chair to mend or a horse to shoe."

"The workings of Providence," said the missionary, "are very mysterious, and, perhaps, you will allow me to illustrate this fact by drawing a comparison. A ship is at the mercy of the waves; it sways, like a drunken man, sometimes one way and sometimes another. All on board are in commotion, some are hurrying down the hatchways, and others are hurrying up. The sailors are twisting the sails about in every possible direction. Some of the men are closing up the port-holes, others are working at the pumps. The officers are issuing a multiplicity of orders at once, the boatswain is constantly sounding his whistle. There is no appearance of order, confusion seems to reign triumphant, and there is every reason to believe that the commands are issued at random."

"I have often wondered," said Jack, "how so many directions issued on ship board in a gale at one and the same moment could possibly be obeyed."

"Let us descend, however, to the captain's cabin," continued the missionary. "He is alone, collected, thoughtful, and tranquil, his eye fixed upon a chart. Now he observes the position of the sun, and marks the meridian; then he examines the compass, and notes the polary deviation. On all sides are sextants, quadrants, and chronometers. He quietly issues an order, which is echoed and repeated above, and thus augments the babel on deck."

"A single order," remarked Willis, "often gives rise to changes in twenty different directions."

"On deck," continued the missionary, "the crew appear completely disorganized. In the captain's cabin, you find that all this apparent confusion is the result of calculation, and is essential to the safety of the ship."

"Still," said Jack, "it is difficult to see how this result is effected by disorder."

"True; and, therefore, we must rely upon the skill of the captain; we behold nothing but uproar, but we know that all is governed by the most perfect discipline. So it is with the world; society is a ship, men and their passions are the mast, sails, rigging, the anchors, quadrants, and sextants of Providence. We understand nothing of the combined action of these instruments; we tremble at every shock, and fear that every whirlwind is destined to sweep us away. But let us penetrate into the chamber of the Great Ruler. He issues his commands tranquilly; we see that He is watching over our safety; and whatever happens, our hearts beat with confidence, and our minds are at rest."

"Therefore," added Littlestone, "we are resigned to our fate as prisoners of war; but still we hope."

"And not without good reason," said Willis; "for it will go hard with me if I do not realize your hopes, and that very shortly too."

"I do not see very well how our hopes of liberty can be realized till peace is proclaimed."

"Peace!" exclaimed Willis. "Yes, in another twenty years or so, perhaps; to wail for such an unlikely event will never do; my young friend, Master Jack Becker, is in a hurry, and we must all leave this place within a month at latest."

"You mean us, then, to make our escape, Willis; but that is impossible."

"I have an idea that it is not impossible, captain; the cargo Masters Fritz and Jack have here will realize a large sum; the pearls, saffron, and cochineal, are bringing their weight in gold. I shall be able to charter or buy a ship with the proceeds, and some dark night we shall all embark; and if a surgeon is not willing to come of his own accord, I shall press the best one in the place: it won't be the first time I have done such a thing, with much less excuse."

"One will be willing," said Jack; "so you need not introduce One-eyed Dick's schooner here, Willis."

"So far so good, then; it only remains for us to smuggle the captain, the missionary, and the crew of the Nelson on board."

"But we are prisoners," said Littlestone.

"I know that well enough; if you were not prisoners, of course there would be no difficulty."

"Recollect, Willis, we are not only prisoners, but we are on parole."

"True," said Willis, scratching his ear, "I did not think of that."

"The situation," remarked Jack, "is something like that of Louis XIV. at the famous passage of the Rhine, of whom Boileau said: 'His grandeur tied him to the banks.' Had you been only a common sailor, captain, a parole would not have stood in the way of your escape."

"But," said Willis, "the parole can be given up, can it not?"

"Not without a reasonable excuse," replied the captain.

"Well," continued Willis, "you can go with the minister to the Maritime Prefect, and say: 'Sir, you know that everyone's country is dear to one's heart, and you will not be astonished to hear that myself and friend have an ardent desire to return to ours. This desire on our part is so great, that some day we may be tempted to fly, and, consequently, forfeit our honor; for, after all, there are only a few miles of sea between us and our homes. We ought not to trust to our strength when we know we are weak. Do us, therefore, the favor to withdraw our parole; we prefer to take up our abode in a prison, so that, if we can escape, we may do so with our honor intact."

"And suppose this favor granted, we shall be securely shut up in a dungeon. I scarcely think that would alter our position for the better, or render our escape practicable."

"You will, at all events, be free to try, will you not?"

"That is a self-evident proposition, Willis, and, so far as that goes, I have no objection to adopt the alternative of prison fare. What say you, minister?"

"As for myself," replied the missionary, "a little additional hardship may do me good, for the Scriptures say: Suffering purifieth the soul."

"We shall, therefore, resign our paroles, Willis; but bear in mind that it is much easier to get into prison than to get out."

"Leave the getting out to me, captain; where there's a will there's always a way."

"Do you think," whispered the captain to Fritz, "that Willis is all right in his upper story?"

Fritz shook his head, which, in the ordinary acceptation of the sign, means, I really do not know.