Captain January by Laura E. Richards
Chapter II. The Story
The lamps were lighted, and the long, level rays flashed their golden warning over the murmuring darkness of the summer sea, giving cheer to many hearts on inbound barque or schooner. Bright indeed was the star on the top of the old lighthouse; but no less radiant was the face of little Star, as she turned it eagerly towards Captain January, and waited for the beginning of the well-known and well-loved story.
"Wal," said the Captain, when his pipe was refilled and drawing bravely. "Let me see now! where shall I begin?"
"At the beginning!" said Star promptly.
"Jes' so!" assented the old man. "Ten years ago this--"
"No! No!!" cried the child. "That isn't the beginning, Daddy! That's almost half-way to the middle. 'When I was a young lad.' That's the beginning."
"Bound to have it all, are ye, Honeysuckle?" said the obedient Captain. "Wal! Wal! when I were a young lad, I was a wild un, ye see, Treasure. My father, he 'prenticed me to a blacksmith, being big and strong for my years; but I hadn't no heart for the work. All I cared about was the sea, and boats, and sailors, and sea talk. I ran away down to the wharf whenever I could get a chance, and left my work. Why, even when I went to meetin', 'stead o' listenin', to the minister, I was lookin' out the places about them as go down to the sea in ships, ye know, and 'that leviathan whom Thou hast made,' and all that. And there was Hiram, King of Tyre, and his ships! Lord! how I used to think about them ships, and wonder how they was rigged, and how many tons they were, and all about it. Yes! I was a wild un, and no mistake; and after awhile I got so roused up--after my mother died, it was, and my father married again--that I just run away, and shipped aboard of a whaler, bound for the north seas. Wal, Honey, 'twould take me a week to tell ye about all my voyages. Long and short of it, 'twas the life I was meant for, and I done well in it. Had tumbles and toss-ups, here and there, same as everybody has in any kind o' life; but I done well, and by the time I was forty year old I was captain of the Bonito, East Indiaman, sailin' from New York to Calcutta."
The Captain paused, and puffed gravely at his pipe for a few minutes.
"Well, Rosebud," he continued, presently, "you know what comes next. The Bonito was cast away, in a cyclone, on a desert island, and all hands lost, except me and one other."
"Dear Daddy! poor Daddy!" cried the child, putting her little hands up to the weather-beaten face, and drawing it down to hers. "Don't talk about that dreadful part. Go on to the next!"
"No, I won't talk about it, Star Bright!" said the old man, very gravely. "Fust place I can't, and second place it ain't fit for little maids to hear of. But I lived on that island fifteen year,--five year with my good mate Job Hotham, and ten year alone, after Job died. When a ship kem by, after that, and took me off, I'd forgot most everything, and was partly like the beasts that perish; but it kem back to me. Slow, like, and by fits, as you may say; but it kem back, all there was before, and maybe a good bit more!"
"Poor Daddy!" murmured the child again, pressing her soft cheek against the white beard. "It's all over now! Don't think of it! I am here, Daddy, loving you: loving you all to pieces, you know!"
The old man was silent for a few minutes, caressing the little white hands which lay like twin snowflakes in his broad, brown palm. Then he resumed, cheerfully:
"And so, Cream Cheese from the dairy of Heaven, I kem home. Your old Daddy kem home, and landed on the same wharf he'd sailed from twenty-five years before. Not direct, you understand, but takin' steamer from New York, and so on. Wal, there wa'n't nobody that knew me, or cared for me. Father was dead, and his wife; and their children, as weren't born when I sailed from home, were growed up and gone away. No, there wa'n't nobody. Wal, I tried for a spell to settle down and live like other folks, but 'twa'n't no use. I was'nt used to the life, and I couldn't stand it. For ten years I haven't heard the sound of a human voice, and now they was buzz, buzzin' all the time; it seemed as if there was a swarm of wasps round my ears the everlastin' day. Buzz! buzz! and then clack! clack! like an everlasting mill-clapper; and folks starin' at my brown face and white hair, and askin' me foolish questions. I couldn't stand it, that was all. I heard that a light-keeper was wanted here, and I asked for the place, and got it. And that's all of the first part, Peach Blossom."
The child drew a long breath, and her face glowed with eager anticipation. "And now, Daddy Captain," she said, "now you may say, 'Ten years ago this fall!'"
"Ten years ago this fall," said the Captain meekly acquiescing, "on the fourteenth day of September, as ever was, I looks out from the tower, bein' a-fillin' of the lamps, and says I, 'There's a storm comin'!' So I made all taut above and below, fastened the door, and took my glass and went out on the rocks, to see how things looked. Wal, they looked pooty bad. There had been a heavy sea on for a couple o' days, and the clouds that was comin' up didn't look as if they was goin' to smooth it down any. There was a kind o' brassy look over every thin', and when the wind began to rise, it warn't with no nat'ral sound, but a kind of screech to it, on'arthly like. Wal, thar! the wind did rise, and it riz to stay. In half an hour it was blowin' half a gale; in an hour it blew a gale, and as tough a one (barrin' cyclones) as ever I see. 'T had like to ha' blow me off my pins, half a dozen times. Then nat'rally the sea kem up; and 'twas all creation on them rocks, now I tell ye. 'The sea, mountin' to the welkin's cheek;' ye remember, Pigeon Pie?"
The child nodded eagerly. "Tempest!" she said, "Act I., Scene 2: 'Enter Prospero and Miranda.' Go on, Daddy!"
"Wal, my Lily Flower," continued the old man. "And the storm went on. It roared, it bellowed, and it screeched: it thumped and it kerwhalloped. The great seas would come bunt up agin the rocks, as if they was bound to go right through to Jersey city, which they used to say was the end of the world. Then they'd go scoopin' back, as if they was callin' all their friends and neighbours to help; and then, bang! they'd come at it agin. The spray was flyin' in great white sheets, and whiles, it seemed as if the hull island was goin' to be swallowed up then and thar. 'Tain't nothin' but a little heap o' rocks anyhow, to face the hull Atlantic Ocean gone mad: and on that heap o' rocks was Januarius Judkins, holdin' on for dear life, and feelin' like a hoppergrass that had got lost in Niag'ry Falls."
"Don't say that name, Daddy!" interrupted the child. "You know I don't like it. Say 'Captain January'!"
"I tell ye, Honeysuckle," said the old man, "I felt more like a sea-cook than a cap'n that night. A cap'n on a quarter-deck's a good thing; but a cap'n on a p'int o' rock, out to sea in a northeast gale, might just as well be a fo'c'sle hand and done with it. Wal, as I was holdin' on thar, I seed a flash to windward, as wasn't lightning; and next minute kem a sound as wasn't thunder nor yet wind nor sea."
"The guns! the guns!" cried the child, in great excitement. "The guns of my poor mamma's ship. And then you heard them again, Daddy?"
"Then I heard them agin!" the old man assented. "And agin! a flash, and a boom! and then in a minute agin, a flash and a boom! 'Oh, Lord!' says I. 'Take her by to the mainland, and put her ashore there!' I says; 'cause there's a life-saving station thar, ye know, Blossom, and there might be some chance for them as were in her. But the Lord had His views, my dear, the Lord had His views! Amen! so be it! In another minute there kem a break in the clouds, and thar she was, comin' full head on, straight for Light Island. Oh! my little Star, that was an awful thing to see. And I couldn't do nothin', you understand. Not a livin' airthly thing could I do, 'cept hide my face agin the rock I was clingin' to, and say, 'Dear Lord, take 'em easy! It's Thy will as they should be took,' I says, 'and there ain't no one to hender, if so be as they could. But take 'em easy, good Lord, and take 'em suddin!'"
"And He did!" cried the child. "The good Lord did take 'em sudden, didn't He, Daddy Captain?"
"He did, my child!" said the old man, solemnly. "They was all home, them that was goin', in ten minutes from the time I saw the ship. You know the Roarin' Bull, as sticks his horns out o' water just to windward of us? the cruelest rock on the coast, he is, and the treacherousest: and the ship struck him full and fair on the starboard quarter, and in ten minutes she was kindlin' wood, as ye may say. The Lord rest their souls as went down in her! Amen!"
"Amen!" said little Star, softly. But she added in an eager tone, "And now, Daddy, you are coming to me!"
"Pooty soon, Jewel Bright!" said the old man, stroking the gold hair tenderly. "I'm a-comin' to you pooty soon. 'Twas along about eight bells when she struck, and none so dark, for the moon had risen. After the ship had gone down, I strained my eyes through the driving spray, to see whether anything was comin' ashore. Presently I seed somethin' black, driftin' towards the rocks: and lo' ye, 'twas a boat bottom side up, and all hands gone down. Wal! wal! the Lord knew what was right: but it's wuss by a deal to see them things than to be in 'em yourself, to my thinkin'. Wal, after a spell I looked agin, and there was somethin' else a-driftin' looked like a spar, it did: and somethin' was lashed to it. My heart! 'twas tossed about like a egg-shell, up and down, and here and thar! 'Twas white, whatever was lashed to it, and I couldn't take my eyes off'n it. 'It can't be alive!' I says, 'whatever it is!' I says. 'But I'll get it, if it takes a leg!' I says. For down in my heart, Jewel, I knew they wouldn't ha' taken such care of anythin' but what was alive, and they perishin', but I didn't think it could live in such a sea long enough to get ashore. Wal, I kep' my eyes on that spar, and I see that 'twas comin' along by the south side. Then I ran, or crawled, 'cordin' as the wind allowed me, back to the shed, and got a boat-hook and a coil o' rope; and then I clumb down as far as I dared, on the south rocks. I scooched down under the lee of a p'int o' rock, and made the rope fast round my waist, and the other end round the rock, and then I waited for the spar to come along. 'Twas hard to make out anythin', for the water was all a white, bilin' churn, and the spray flyin' fit to blind you; but bimeby I co't sight of her comin' swashin' along, now up on top of a big roarer, and then scootin' down into the holler, and then up agin. I crep' out on the rocks, grippin' 'em for all I was wuth, with the boat-hook under my arm. The wind screeched and clawed at me like a wildcat in a caniption fit, but I hadn't been through those cyclones for nothin'. I lay down flat and wriggled myself out to the edge, and thar I waited."
"And the waves were breaking over you all the time?" cried the child, with eager inquiry.
"Wal, they was that, Honeysuckle!" said the Captain. "Bless ye, I sh'd ha' been washed off like a log if 't hadn't ben for the rope. But that held; 'twas a good one, and tied with a bowline, and it held. Wal, I lay thar, and all to wunst I see her comin' by like a flash, close to me. 'Now!' says I, 'ef ther's any stuff in you, J. Judkins, let's see it!' says I. And I chucks myself over the side o' the rock and grabs her with the boat-hook, and hauls her in. 'All together,' I says. 'Now, my hearties! Yo heave ho!' and I hed her up, and hauled her over the rocks and round under the lee of the p'int, before I stopped to breathe. How did I do it? Don't ask me, Jewel Bright! I don't know how I did it. There's times when a man has strength given to him, seemin'ly, over and above human strength. 'Twas like as if the Lord ketched holt and helped me: maybe He did, seein' what 'twas I was doing. Maybe He did!" He paused a moment in thought, but Star was impatient.
"Well, Daddy!" she cried. "And then you looked and found it was--go on, Daddy dear!"
"I looked," continued the old man, "and I found it was a sail, that had showed so white against the spar; a sail, wrapped tight round somethin'. I cut the ropes, and pulled away the canvas and a tarpaulin that was inside that; and thar I seed--"
"My poor mamma and me!" cried the child, joyously, clapping her hands. "Oh, Daddy Captain, it is so delightful when you come to this part! And my poor mamma was dead? You are quite positively sure that she was dead, Daddy?"
"She were, my lamb!" replied the Captain, gravely. "You needn't never have no doubt about it. She had had a blow on the head, your poor ma had, from one o' the bull's horns, likely; and I'll warrant she never knowed anythin' after it, poor lady! She was wrapped in a great fur cloak, the same as you have on your bed in winter, Blossom: and lyin' all clost and warm in her cold arms, that held on still, though the life was gone out of 'em, was"--the old man faltered, and brushed his rough hand across his eyes--"was a--a little baby. Asleep, it seemed to be, all curled up like a rose on its mother's breast, and its pooty eyes tight shut. I loosed the poor arms--they was like a stattoo's, so round and white and cold; and I took the child up in my arms; and lo' ye! it opened its eyes and looked straight at me and laughed."
"And it said, Daddy?" cried the delighted child, clapping her hands. "Tell what it said!"
"It said ''Tar,'" the old man continued, in a hushed voice. "'Tar,' it said as plain as I say it to you. 'And "Star" it is!' says I; for 'if ever a star shone on a dark night, it's you, my pooty,' I says. 'Praise the Lord,' I says. 'Amen, so be it.' Then I laid your poor ma in a corner, under the lee of the big rock, where the spray wouldn't fly over her, and I covered her with the sail; and then I took the fur cloak, seein' the baby needed it and she didn't, and wrapped it round the little un, and clumb back over the rocks, up to the house. And so, Honeysuckle--"
"And so," cried the child, taking his two great hands and putting them softly together, "so I came to be your little Star!"
"To be my little Star!" assented the old man, stooping to kiss the golden head.
"Your light and your joy!" exclaimed the child, laughing with pleasure.
"My light and my joy!" said the old man, solemnly. "A light from heaven to shine in a dark place, and the Lord's message to a sinful man."
He was silent for a little, looking earnestly into the child's radiant face. Presently, "You've been happy, Star Bright?" he asked. "You haven't missed nothin'?"
Star opened wide eyes of surprise at him. "Of course I've been happy!" she said. "Why shouldn't I be?"
"You ain't--I mean you haven't mourned for your poor ma, have ye, Jewel?" He was still looking curiously at her, and his look puzzled her.
"No," she said after a pause. "Of course not. I never knew my poor mamma. Why should I mourn for her? She is in heaven, and I am very glad. You say heaven is much nicer than here, so it must be pleasanter for my poor mamma; and I don't need her, because I have you, Daddy. But go on, now, please, Daddy dear. 'Next day'--"
"Next day," resumed the obedient Captain, "the sky was bright and clear, and only the heavy sea, and your poor ma, and you, Peach Blossom, to tell what had happened, so far as I seed at fust. Bimeby, when I went out to look, I found other things."
"My poor papa!" said Star, with an air of great satisfaction.
The Captain nodded. "Yer poor pa," he said, "and two others with him. How did I know he was your poor pa? Along of his havin' your poor ma's pictur hung round his neck. And a fine-lookin' man he was, to be sure!"
"And his name was 'H. M.'!" cried the child, eagerly.
"Them was the letters of it!" assented the Captain. "Worked on his shirt and hank'cher, so fine as ever was. Well, Jewel Bright, when I seed all this, I says, 'January,' says I, 'here's Christian corpses, and they must have Christian burial!' I says. So I brought 'em all up to the house, and laid 'em comfortable; and then I gave you a good drink of warm milk (you'd been sleepin' like a little angil, and only waked up to smile and crow and say ''Tar'), and gave you a bright spoon to play with; and then I rowed over to shore to fetch the minister and the crowner, and everybody else as was proper. You don't care about this part, Honeysuckle, and you ain't no need to, but everything was done decent and Christian, and your parents and the other two laid peaceful under the big pine-tree. Then the minister, when 'twas all done, he says to me, 'And now, my friend,' he says, 'I'll relieve you of the child, as would be a care to you, and I can find some one to take charge of it!' he says. 'Meanin' no disrespect, Minister,' I says, 'don't think it! The Lord has His views, you'll allow, most times, and He had 'em when He sent the child here. He could have sent her ashore by the station jest as easy,' I says, 'if so be't had seemed best; but He sent her to me,' I says, 'and I'll keep her.' 'But how can you bring up a child?' he says, 'alone, here on a rock in the ocean?' he says. 'I've been thinking that over, Minister,' I says, 'ever since I holt that little un in my arms, takin' her from her dead mother's breast,' I says; 'and I can't see that there's more than three things needed to bring up a child,--the Lord's help, common sense, and a cow. The last two I hev, and the fust is likely to be round when a man asks for it!' I says. So then we shakes hands, and he doesn't say nothin' more, 'cept to pray a blessin' for me and for the child. And the blessin' kem, and the blessin' stayed, Star Bright; and there's the end of the story, my maid.
"And now it's time these two eyes were shut, and only the top star shinin' in the old tower. Good night, Jewel! Good night, and God bless you!"