Captain January by Laura E. Richards
Chapter I. Star Bright
The Captain had sold all his lobsters. They had been particularly fine ones, and had gone off "like hot cakes," everyone who passed by the wharf stopping to buy one or two. Now the red dory was empty, and the Captain had washed her out with his usual scrupulous care, and was making preparations for his homeward voyage, when he was hailed by a cheery voice from the street.
"Hillo, January!" said the voice. "Is that you? How goes it?" and the owner of the voice, a sturdy man in a blue coat with brass buttons, came down the wharf and greeted the Captain with a hearty shake of the hand.
"How goes it?" he repeated. "I haven't seen ye for a dog's age."
"I'm hearty, Cap'n Nazro!" replied Captain January. "Hearty, that's what I am, an' hopin' you're the same."
"That's right!" said the first speaker. "'Tain't often we set eyes on you, you stick so close to your light. And the little gal, she's well, I expect? She looks a picture, when I take a squint at her through the glass sometimes. Never misses running out and shaking her apron when we go by!"
"Cap'n Nazro," said January, speaking with emphasis, "if there is a pictur in this world, o' health, and pootiness, and goodness, it's that child. It's that little un, sir. Not to be beat in this country, nor yet any other 'cordin' as I've voyaged."
"Nice little gal!" said Captain Nazro, assenting. "Mighty nice little gal! Ain't it time she was going to school, January? My wife and I were speaking about it only the other day. Seems as if she'd oughter be round with other children now, and learning what they do. Mis Nazro would be real pleased to have her stop with us a spell, and go to school with our gals. What do you say?" He spoke very heartily, but looked doubtfully at the old man, as if hardly expecting a favourable answer.
Captain January shook his head emphatically, "You're real kind, Cap'n Nazro!" he said; "real kind, you and Mis Nazro both are! and she makin' the little un's frocks and pinafores, as is a great help. But I can't feel to let her out o' my sight, nohow; and as for school, she ain't the kind to bear it, nor yet I couldn't for her. She's learnin'!" he added, proudly. "Learnin' well! I'll bet there ain't no gal in your school knows more nor that little un does. Won'erful, the way she walks ahead!"
"Get the school readers, hey! and teach her yourself do you?" queried Captain Nazro.
"No, sir!" replied the old man; "I don't have no school readers. The child learns out o' the two best books in the world,--the Bible, and William Shakespeare's book; them's all the books she ever seed--saw, I should say."
"William Shak--" began Captain Nazro; and then he broke off in sheer amazement, and said, simply, "Well, I'm blowed!"
"The minister giv 'em to me," said Captain January. "I reckon he knows. There's a dictionary, too," he added, rather sadly; "but I can't make her take to that, nohow, though there's a power o' fine words in it."
Then, as the other man remained silent and openmouthed, he said: "But I must be goin', Cap'n Nazro, sir! The little un'll be lookin' for me. Good day, sir, and thank ye kindly, all the same as if it was to be, which it ain't!" And with a friendly gesture, the old man stepped into his red dory, and rowed away with long, sturdy strokes.
Captain Nazro gazed after him meditatively, took out his pipe and looked at it, then gazed again. "January's cracked," he said; "that's what's the matter with him. He's a good man, and a good lighthouse-keeper, and he's been an able seaman in his day, none better; but he's cracked!"
There is an island off a certain part of the coast of Maine,--a little rocky island, heaped and tumbled together as if Dame Nature had shaken down a heap of stones at random from her apron, when she had finished making the larger islands which lie between it and the mainland. At one end, the shoreward end, there is a tiny cove, and a bit of silver-sand beach, with a green meadow beyond it, and a single great pine; but all the rest is rocks, rocks. At the farther end the rocks are piled high, like a castle wall, making a brave barrier against the Atlantic waves; and on top of this cairn rises the lighthouse, rugged and sturdy as the rocks themselves, but painted white, and with its windows shining like great, smooth diamonds. This is Light Island; and it was in this direction that Captain January's red dory was headed when he took his leave of his brother-captain, and rowed away from the wharf. It was a long pull; in fact, it took pretty nearly the whole afternoon, so that the evening shadows were lengthening when at length he laid down his oars, and felt the boat's nose rub against the sand of the little home-cove. But rowing was no more effort than breathing to Captain January, and it was no fatigue, but only a trifle of stiffness from sitting so long, that troubled him a little in getting out of the boat. As he stepped slowly out upon the firm-grained silver of the little beach, he looked up and around with an expectant air, and seeing no one, a look of disappointment crossed his face. He opened his lips as if to call some one, but checking himself, "Happen she's gettin' supper!" he said. "It's later than I thought. I don't pull so spry as I used ter, 'pears ter me. Wal, thar! 'tain't to be expected. I sh'll be forty years old before I know it!"
Chuckling to himself, the Captain drew up the little boat and made her fast; then, taking sundry brown-paper parcels from under the thwart, he turned and made his way up towards the lighthouse. A picturesque figure he was, striding along among the heaped and tumbled rocks. His hair and beard, still thick and curly, were absolutely white, as white as the foam that broke over the rocks at the cliff's foot. His face was tanned and weather-beaten to the colour of mahogany, but the features were strong and sharply cut, while the piercing blue eyes which gleamed beneath his shaggy eyebrows showed all the fire of youth, and seemed to have no part in the seventy years which had bent the tall form, and rounded slightly the broad and massive shoulders. The Captain wore a rough pea-jacket and long boots, while his head was adorned with a nondescript covering which might have begun life either as a hat or a cap, but would now hardly be owned by either family.
Reaching the house, the old man mounted the rude steps which led to the door, and entered the room which was kitchen, dining, and drawing room at Storm Castle, as the lighthouse was called by its inhabitants. The room was light and cheerful, with a pleasant little fire crackling sociably on the hearth. The table was laid with a clean white cloth, the kettle was singing on the hob, and a little covered saucepan was simmering with an agreeable and suggestive sound; but no one was to be seen. Alarmed, he hardly knew why, at the silence and solitude, Captain January set his parcels down on the table, and going to the foot of the narrow stone staircase which wound upward beside the chimney, called, "Star! Star Bright, where are you? Is anything wrong?"
"No, Daddy Captain!" answered a clear, childish voice from above; "I'm coming in a minute. Be patient, Daddy dear!"
With a sigh of relief, Captain January retired to the fireplace, and sitting down in a huge high-backed armchair, began leisurely pulling off his great boots. One was already off and in his hand, when a slight noise made him look up. He started violently, and then, leaning back in his chair, gazed in silent amazement at the vision before him.
On the stone stairway, and slowly descending, with steps that were meant to be stately (and which might have been so, had not the stairs been so steep, and the little legs so short) was the figure of a child: a little girl about ten years old, with a face of almost startling beauty. Her hair floated like a cloud of pale gold about her shoulders; her eyes were blue, not light and keen, like the old man's, but of that soft, deep, shadowy blue that poets love to call violet. Wonderful eyes, shaded by long, curved lashes of deepest black, which fell on the soft, rose-and-ivory tinted cheek, as the child carefully picked her way down, holding up her long dress from her little feet. It was the dress which so astonished Captain January. Instead of the pink calico frock and blue checked pinafore, to which his eyes were accustomed, the little figure was clad in a robe of dark green velvet with a long train, which spread out on the staircase behind her, very much like the train of a peacock. The body, made for a grown woman, hung back loosely from her shoulders, but she had tied a scarf of gold tissue under her arms and round her waist, while from the long hanging sleeves her arms shone round and white as sculptured ivory. A strange sight, this, for a lighthouse tower on the coast of Maine! but so fair a one, that the old mariner could not take his eyes from it.
"Might be Juliet!" he muttered to himself. "Juliet, when she was a little un. 'Her beauty hangs upon the cheek o' Night,'--only it ain't, so to say, exactly night,--'like a rich jewel in a nigger's ear.' No! that ain't right. 'Nigger' ain't right, 'Ethiop's ear, 'that's it! Though I should judge they were much the same thing, and they more frekently wear 'em in their noses, them as I've seen in their own country."
As he thus soliloquised, the little maiden reached the bottom of the stairs in safety, and dropping the folds of the velvet about her, made a quaint little courtesy, and said, "Here I am, Daddy Captain! how do you like me, please?"
"Star Bright," replied Captain January, gazing fixedly at her, as he slowly drew his pipe from his pocket and lighted it. "I like you amazin'. A-mazin' I like you, my dear! but it is what you might call surprisin', to leave a little maid in a blue pinafore, and to come back and find a princess in gold and velvet. Yes, Pigeon Pie, you might call it surprisin', and yet not be stretchin' a p'int."
"Am I really like a princess?" said the child, clapping her hands, and laughing with pleasure. "Have you ever seen a princess, Daddy Captain, and did she look like me?"
"I seed--I saw--one, once," replied the Captain, gravely, puffing at his pipe. "In Africky it was, when I was fust mate to an Indiaman. And she wa'n't like you, Peach Blossom, no more than Hyperion to a Satyr, and that kind o' thing. She had on a short petticut, comin' half-way down to her knees, and a necklace, and a ring through her nose. And--"
"Where were her other clothes?" asked the child.
"Wal--maybe she kem off in a hurry and forgot 'em!" said the Captain, charitably. "Anyhow, not speakin' her language, I didn't ask her. And she was as black as the ace of spades, and shinin' all over with butter."
"Oh, that kind of princess!" said Star, loftily. "I didn't mean that kind, Daddy. I meant the kind who live in fretted palaces, with music in th' enamelled stones, you know, and wore clothes like these every day."
"Wal, Honey, I never saw one of that kind, till now!" said the Captain, meekly. "And I'm sorry I hain't--I mean I ain't--got no fretted palace for my princess to live in. This is a poor place for golden lasses and velvet trains."
"It isn't!" cried the child, her face flashing into sudden anger, and stamping her foot. "You sha'n't call it a poor place, Daddy! It's wicked of you. And I wouldn't live in a palace if there were fifty of them all set in a row. So there now!" She folded her arms and looked defiantly at the old man, who returned her gaze placidly, and continued to puff at his pipe, until he was seized in a penitent embrace, hugged, and kissed, and scolded, and wept over, all at once.
The brief tempest over, the child seated herself comfortably on his knee, and said, "Now, Daddy, I want a story."
"Story before supper?" asked the Captain, meekly, looking at the saucepan, which was fairly lifting its lid in its eagerness to be attended to. A fresh access of remorseful hugging followed.
"You poor darling!" said Star; "I forgot all about supper. And it's stewed kidneys, too! But oh! my dress!" and she glanced down at her velvet splendour. "I must go and take it off," she said, sadly.
"Not you, Honeysuckle," said the old man, rising and setting the child down carefully in the chair. "Sit you there, and be a real princess, and I will be your steward, and get supper this time. I like to see you in your fine clothes, and 'twould be a shame to take 'em off so soon."
She clapped her hands again, and settling herself cosily in the great chair, arranged her train with a graceful sweep, and pushed back her cloudy golden hair.
"Shall I really act princess?" she asked,--and without waiting for an answer, she began to give orders in lofty tones, holding her head high in the air, and pointing hither and thither with her tiny hands. "Take up the golden chafing-dish, Grumio!" she cried. "The kidneys--I mean the capons--are quite ready now. And the milk--no! the sack--is in the silver flagon!" she pointed to an ancient blue jug which stood on the dresser.
The obedient Captain hastened to take up the saucepan, and soon the frugal supper was set out, and princess and steward were doing ample justice to it.
"You didn't say 'Anon! anon! Madam' when I ordered you about," said the Princess, thoughtfully. "You ought to, you know. Servants always do in the book."
"Wal, I didn't think on't," the steward admitted. "I wa'n't brought up to the business, you see, Princess. It always seemed to me a foolish thing to say, anyhow: no disrespect to W. Shakespeare. The hull of the word's 'anonymous,' I believe, and the dictionary says that means 'wanting a name.' So, altogether, Star Bright, I haven't been able to make much sense out o' that answer."
"Oh, never mind!" said the Princess, tossing her head. "I don't like the dictionary. It's a wretch!"
"So 'tis, so 'tis," assented the Captain, with servile alacrity. "Have some more milk then, Sunshine."
"It isn't milk! it's sack," said the child, promptly, holding out her small yellow mug with a royal air. "Are the capons good, Grumio?"
"They are, my lamb, they are," replied the Captain. "Oncommon good they are, to be sure, and me not knowin' to this day what capons was. A little more? Yes, Pigeon Pie, I will take a little more, thank ye kindly."
"I don't think, Grumio, that you ought to call me lambs and pigeon pies just now," remarked the Princess, judiciously. "Do you think it's respectful? they don't in Shakespeare, I'm sure."
"I won't do it again, Honey--I mean Madam;" said the Captain, bowing with great humility. "I beg your honourable majesty's pardon, and I won't never presume to--"
"Yes, you will!" cried the Princess, flinging herself across the table at him, and nearly choking him with the sudden violence of her embrace. "You shall call me pigeon pie, and anything else you like. You shall call me rye porridge, though I hate it, and it's always full of lumps. And don't ever look that way again; it kills me!"
The Captain quietly removed the clinging arms, and kissed them, and set the half-weeping child back in her place. "There, there, there!" he said, soothingly. "What a little tempest it is!"
"Say 'delicate Ariel,'" sobbed Star. "You haven't said it to-day, and you always say it when you love me."
"Cream Cheese from the dairy of Heaven," replied the Captain; "if I always said it when I loved you, I should be sayin' it every minute of time, as well you know. But you are my delicate Ariel, so you are, and there ain't nothin' in the hull book as suits you better. So!" and his supper ended, the good man turned his chair again to the fire, and took the child, once more smiling, upon his knee.
"And now, Ariel, what have you been doin' all the time I was away? Tell Daddy all about it."
Star pondered a moment, with her head on one side, and a finger hooked confidentially through the Captain's buttonhole. "Well," she said, "I've had a very interesting time, Daddy Captain. First I cleaned the lamps, of course, and filled and trimmed them. And then I played Samson a good while; and--"
"And how might you play Samson?" inquired the Captain.
"With flies!" replied Star, promptly. "Heaps upon heaps, you know; 'With the jaw-bone of an ass have I slain a thousand men.' The flies were the Philistines, and I took a clam-shell for the jaw-bone; it did just as well. And I made a song out of it, to one of the tunes you whistle: 'With the jaw-bone! with the jaw-bone! with the jaw-bone of an ass!' It was very exciting."
"Must ha' been," said the Captain dryly. "Well, Honeysuckle, what did you do then?"
"Oh, that took some time!" said the child. "And afterward I fished a little, but I didn't catch anything, 'cept an old flounder, and he winked at me, so I put him back. And then I thought a long time--oh! a very long time, sitting like Patience on the doorstep. And suddenly, Daddy Captain, I thought about those boxes of clothes, and how you said they would be mine when I was big. And I measured myself against the doorpost, and found that I was very big. I thought I must be almost as big as you, but I s'pose I'd forgotten how big you were. So I went up, and opened one box, and I was just putting the dress on when you came in. You knew where it came from, of course, Daddy, the moment you saw it."
The Captain nodded gravely, and pulled his long moustaches.
"Do you suppose my poor mamma wore it often?" the child went on, eagerly. "Do you think she looked like me when she wore it? Do I look as she did when you saw her?"
"Wal," began the Captain, meditatively; but Star ran on without waiting for an answer.
"Of course, though, she looked very different, because she was dead. You are quite very positively sure my poor mamma was dead, Daddy Captain?"
"She were," replied the Captain, with emphasis. "She were that, Pigeon Pie! You couldn't find nobody deader, not if you'd sarched for a week. Why, door nails, and Julius Caesar, and things o' that description, would ha' been lively compared with your poor ma when I see her. Lively! that's what they'd ha' been."
The child nodded with an air of familiar interest, wholly untinged with sadness. "I think," she said, laying her head against the old man's shoulder, and curling one arm about his neck, "I think I should like to hear about it again, please, Daddy. It's a long, long time since you told me the whole of it."
"Much as a month, I should think it must be," assented the Captain. "Why, Snowdrop, you know the story by heart, better'n I do, I believe. 'Pears to me I've told it reg'lar, once a month or so, ever since you were old enough to understand it."
"Never mind!" said the Princess, with an imperious gesture. "That makes no difference. I want it now!"
"Wal, wal!" said the Captain, smoothing back the golden hair. "If you want it, why of course you must have it, Blossom! But first I must light up, ye know. One star inside the old house, and the other atop of it: that's what makes Light Island the lightest spot in the natural world. Sit ye here, Star Bright, and play Princess till Daddy comes back!"