Captain January by Laura E. Richards
Chapter V. Captain January's Star
And where was little Star, while all this was going on down on the beach? Oh, she had been having a delightful afternoon. It was cloudy, and Daddy was going to be busy, so she had determined to spend an hour or so in her own room, and enjoy all the delights of "dressing up." For the great chest that had been washed ashore from the wreck, the day after she herself had come to the island, was full of clothes belonging to her "poor mamma;" and as we have seen, the little woman was fully inclined to make use of them.
Beautiful clothes they were; rich silks and velvets, with here and there cloudy laces and strange webs of Eastern gauze. For she had been a beautiful woman, this poor mamma, and it had been the delight of Hugh Maynard, her proud and fond husband, to deck his lovely wife in all rare and precious stuffs. Some of them were stained with sea-water, and many of the softer stuffs were crumpled and matted hopelessly, but that mattered little to Star. Her eyes delighted in soft, rich colours, and she was never weary of turning them over and over, trying them on, and "playing s'pose" with them.
"S'pose," she would say, "my poor mamma was going to a banquet, like the Capulet one, or Macbeth's. Oh, no! 'cause that would have been horrid, with ghosts and daggers and things. S'pose it was the Capulets! Then she would put on this pink silk. Isn't it pretty, and soft, and creamy? Just like the wild roses on the south side of the meadow, that I made a wreath of for Imogen on her birthday. Dear Imogen! it was so becoming to her. Well, so my poor mamma put it on--so! and then she paced through the hall, and all the lords turned round and said, 'Mark'st thou yon lady?' 'Cause she was so beautiful, you know. This is the way she paced!" and then the little creature would fall to pacing up and down the room, dragging the voluminous pink folds behind her, her head thrown back, and a look of delighted pride lighting up her small face.
It was the funniest little place, this room of Star's, the queerest, quaintest little elfin bower! It was built out from the south side of the tower, almost like a swallow's nest, only a swallow's nest has no window looking out on the blue sea. There was a little white bed in a corner, and a neat chest of drawers, and a wash-stand, all made by Captain January's skilful hands, and all shining and spotless. The bare floor was shining too, and so was the little looking-glass which hung upon the wall. And beside the looking-glass, and above it, and in fact all over the walls, were trophies and wonders of all kinds and descriptions. There was the starfish with ten legs, pinned up in sprawling scarlet; and there, beside him, the king of all the sea-urchins, resplendent with green and purple horns. And here were ropes of shells, and branches of coral, and over the bed a great shining star, made of the delicate gold-shells. That was Daddy's present to her on her last birthday. Dear Daddy! There, sitting in the corner, was Mrs. Neptune, the doll which Captain January had carved out of a piece of fine wood that had drifted ashore after a storm. Her eyes were tiny black snail-shells, her hair was of brown sea-moss, very thick and soft ("though as for combing it," said Star, "it is im-possible!"), and a smooth pink shell was set in either cheek, "to make a blush." Mrs. Neptune was somewhat battered, as Star was in the habit of knocking her head against the wall when she was in a passion; but she maintained her gravity of demeanour, and always sat with her back perfectly straight, and with an air of protest against everything in general.
In the window stood the great chest, at once a treasure-chamber and a seat; and over it hung one of the most precious things of Star's little world. It was a string of cocoanut-shells. Fifteen of them there were, and each one was covered with curious and delicate carving, and each one meant a whole year of a man's life. "For the nuts was ripe when we kem ashore, my good mate Job Hotham and me, on that island. So when the nuts was ripe agin, ye see, Jewel Bright, we knowed 'twas a year since we kem. So I took my jack-knife and carved this first shell, as a kind o' token, ye know, and not thinkin' there'd be so many to carve." So the first shell was all covered with ships: fair vessels, with sails all set, and smooth seas rippling beneath them,--the ships that were even then on their way to rescue the two castaways. And the second was carved with anchors, the sign of hope, and with coils of rope, and nautical instruments, and things familiar to seamen's eyes. But the third was carved with stars, and sickle-curved moons, and broad-rayed suns, "Because, ye see, Peach Blossom, arthly hope bein' as ye might say foundered, them things, and what was above 'em, stayed where they was; and it stiddied a man's mind to think on 'em, and to make a note on 'em as fur as might be." And then came one covered with flowers and berries, and another with fruits, and another with shells, and so on through the whole fifteen. They hung now in little Star's window, a strange and piteous record; and every night before the child said her prayers, she kissed the first and last shell, and then prayed that Daddy Captain might forget the "dreadful time," and never, never think about it again.
So, on this gray day, when other things were going on out-of-doors, Star was having a "good time" in her room. She had found in the treasure-chest a short mantle of gold-coloured velvet, which made "a just exactly skirt" for her, the two ends trailing behind enough to give her a sense of dignity, but not enough to impede her movements. "For I am not a princess to-day!" she said; "I am delicate Ariel, and the long ones get round my feet so I can't run." Then came a long web of what she called "sunshine," and really it might have been woven of sunbeams, so airy-light was the silken gauze of the fabric. This my lady had wound round and round her small person with considerable art, the fringed ends hanging from either shoulder, and making, to her mind, a fair substitute for wings. "See!" she cried, running to and fro, and glancing backward as she ran. "They wave! they really do wave! Look, Mrs. Neptune! aren't they lovely? But you are envious, and that is why you look so cross. 'Merrily, merrily, shall I live now, under the blossom that hangs on the bough.'" She leaped and danced about the room, light and radiant as a creature of another world: then stopped, to survey with frowning brows her little blue stockings and stout laced boots. "Ariel never wore such things as those!" she declared; "if you say she did, Mrs. Neptune, you show your ignorance, and that is all I have to say to you." Off came the shoes and stockings, and the little white feet were certainly much prettier to look at. "Now," cried Star, "I will go down-stairs and wait for Daddy Captain, and perhaps he will think I am a real fairy. Oh, wouldn't that be fun? I am sure I look like one!" and down the stairs she flitted like a golden butterfly. Once in the kitchen, the housewife in her triumphed for a moment over the fairy: she raked up the fire, put on more wood, and swept the hearth daintily. "But Ariel did such things for Prospero," she said. "I'm Ariel just the same, so I may as well fill the kettle and put some apples down to roast." This was soon done, and clapping her hands with delight the "tricksy spirit" began to dance and frolic anew.
"'Come unto these yellow sands, And then take hands!'"
she sang, holding out her hands to invisible companions.
"'Courtesied when ye have, and kissed (The wild waves whist!) Foot it featly here and there.'
"Oh! foot it featly, and feat it footly, and dance and sing, and tootle-ty ting!" cried the child, as she flitted like a golden cloud about the room. Then, as she whirled round and faced the door, she stopped short. Her arms fell by her side, and she stood as if spellbound, looking at the lady who stood in the doorway.
The lady made no motion at first, but only gazed at her with loving and tender eyes. She was a beautiful lady, and her eyes were soft and blue, with a look of tears in them. But there was no answering softness in the starry eyes of the child: only a wide, wild look of wonder, of anger, perhaps of fear. Presently the lady, still silent, raised both hands, and kissed them tenderly to the child; then laid them on her breast, and then held them out to her with a gesture of loving appeal.
"I don't know whether you are a spirit of health or a goblin damned," said Star; "but anyhow it isn't polite to come into people's houses without knocking, I think. I knowed you were a spirit when you looked at me yesterday, if you did have a red shawl on."
"How did you know that I was a spirit?" asked the lady softly. "Oh, little Star, how did you know?"
"'Cause you looked like my poor mamma's picture," replied the child, "that my poor papa had round his neck. Are you my mamma's spirit?"
The lady shook her head. "No, darling," she said, "I am no spirit. But I have come to see you, little Star, and to tell you something. Will you not let me come in, Sweetheart?"
Star blushed, and hung her head for a moment, remembering Captain January's lessons on politeness and "quarter-deck manners." She brought a chair at once, and in a more gracious tone said (mindful of Willum Shakespeare's lords and ladies), "I pray you sit!"
The lady sat down, and taking the child's hand, drew her gently towards her. "Were you playing fairy, dear?" she asked, smoothing back the golden hair with loving touch.
Star nodded. "I was delicate Ariel," she said. "I was footing it featly, you know, on these yellow sands. Sometimes I am Puck, and sometimes Titania; but Daddy likes Ariel best, and so do I. Did you ever play it?" she asked, looking up into the kindly face that bent over her.
The lady smiled and shook her head. "No, dear child," she said, still with that motherly touch of the hand on the fair head. "I never thought of such a pretty play as that, but I was very happy as a child playing with my--with my sister. I had a dear, dear sister, Star. Would you like to hear about her?"
"Yes," said Star, with wondering eyes. "Was she a little girl?"
"Such a lovely little girl!" said the lady. "Her hair was dark, but her eyes were like yours, Star, blue and soft. We played together always as children, and we grew up together, two loving, happy girls. Then my sister married: and by and by, dear, she had a little baby. A sweet little girl baby, and she named it Isabel, after me."
"I was a little girl baby, too," said Star, "but I wasn't named anything; I came so: just Star."
"Little Isabel had another name," said the lady. "Her other name was Maynard, because that was her father's name. Her father was Hugh Maynard. Have you ever seen or heard that name, my child?"
Star shook her head. "No!" she said; "my poor papa's name was H. M. It was marked on his shirt and han'k'chief, Daddy says. And my poor mamma's name was Helena, just like Helena in 'Midsummer Night's Dream.'" The motherly hand trembled, and the lady's voice faltered as she said, "Star, my dear sister's name was Helena, too. Is not that strange, my little one?"
The child looked curiously at her. "Where is your dear sister?" she asked. "Why do you cry when you say her name? is she naughty?"
"Listen, Star," said the lady, wiping the tears from her eyes, and striving to speak composedly.
"My sister made a voyage to Europe, with her husband and her little baby. They spent the summer travelling in beautiful countries; and in the autumn, in September, Star, ten years ago this very year,--think of it, my dear!--they sailed for home. They came in a sailing-vessel, because the sea-voyage was thought good for your--for my sister. And--and--the vessel was never heard from. There was a terrible storm and many vessels were lost in it."
"Just like my poor mamma's ship," said the child. "Perhaps it was the same storm. Do you think--why do you look at me so?" she cried, breaking off suddenly.
But the lady put both arms round her and drew her close, close, while her tears fell fast on the golden hair. "My darling!" she cried, "my dear, dear little one! It was the same storm; the same storm and the same ship. Your poor mamma was my own sweet sister Helena, and you are my niece, my little Isabel, my own, own little namesake. Will you love me, darling? will you love your Aunt Isabel, and let her care for you and cherish you as your sweet mother would have done?"
Star stood very still, neither returning nor repelling the lady's caresses. She was pale, and her breath came short and quick, but otherwise she showed no sign of agitation. Presently she put up her hand and stroked the lady's cheek gently. "Why do you cry?" she asked, quietly. "My poor mamma is in heaven. Don't you like her to be in heaven? Daddy says it is much nicer than here, and he knows."
Mrs. Morton checked her tears, and smiled tenderly in the little wondering face, "Dear child!" she said, "I do like to have her in heaven, and I will not cry any more. But you have not told me whether you will love me, Star. Will you try, dear? and will you let me call you my little Isabel?"
"I will love you," replied the child, "if Daddy Captain loves you; I will love you very much. But you must not call me that name, 'cause I'm not it. I am just Star. Does Daddy love you?" she asked; and then, with a sudden note of anxiety in her voice, she exclaimed, "Where is Daddy? Where is my Daddy Captain? Did you see him when you came in?"
Her question was answered by the sound of voices outside; and the next moment the minister appeared, followed by Mr. Morton and Captain January. The old Captain hastened to place a chair for each of the gentlemen by the fireside, and then took his stand against the wall on the further side of the room. He held his weather-beaten cap in his hand, and turned it slowly round and round, considering it attentively. It might have been observed by one quick to notice trifles, that he did not look at the child, though no slightest motion of hers was lost upon him.
"George," said Mrs. Morton, joyously, to her husband, "here is our little niece, dearest Helena's child. She is going to love me, she says, and she will love you, too. Star, my darling, this is your Uncle George. Will you not give him a kiss, and be his little girl as well as mine? We have two little girls at home, and you shall be the third."
Star went obediently to Mr. Morton, who kissed her warmly, and tried to take her on his knee. "You are taller than our Grace," he said, "but I don't believe you are as heavy, my dear. Grace is just your age, and I am sure you will be great friends."
But Star slipped quietly from his arms, and, running to the Captain, took one of his hands in both of hers and kissed it. "I am Daddy Captain's little girl!" she said, looking round bravely at the others. "Why do you talk as if I belonged to you?" Then seeing the trouble in Mrs. Morton's face, she added, "I will love you, truly I will, and I will call you Aunt Isabel; but I cannot belong to different people, 'cause I'm only just one. Just Captain January's Star."
She looked up in the old man's face with shining eyes, but no tender, confident look returned her glance. The brown hand trembled between her two little white palms; the keen blue eyes were still bent fixedly upon the old woollen cap, as if studying its texture; but it was in a quiet and soothing tone that the Captain murmured:
"Easy, Jewel Bright! Easy, now! Helm steady, and stand by!"
There was a moment of troubled silence; and then the old minister, clearing his throat, spoke in his gentle, tranquil voice. "My dear child," he said, "a very strange thing has come to pass; but what seems strange to us is doubtless clear and simple to the Infinite Wisdom above us. You have been a faithful and loving child, little Star, to your beloved guardian and friend here, and no father could have cared for you more tenderly than he has done. But the tie of blood is a strong one, my dear, and should not be lightly set aside. This lady is your own near relation, the sister of your dear dead mother. Through the merciful providence of God, she has been led to you, and she feels it her duty to claim you, in the name of your parents. We have considered the matter carefully, and we all feel that it is right that you should hereafter make your home with her and your uncle. This may be painful to you, my dear; but you are a good and intelligent child, and you will understand that if we give you pain now, it is to secure your future good and happiness."
He paused; and all eyes, save those keen blue ones which were studying so carefully the texture of the battered woollen cap, turned anxiously on the child. A deep flush passed over Star's face; then vanished, leaving it deadly pale, a mask of ivory with eyes of flame. When she spoke, it was in a low, suppressed voice, wholly unlike her own.
"You may kill me," said the child, "and take my body away, if you like. I will not go while I am alive."
She turned her eyes from one to the other, as if watching for the slightest motion to approach her.
Mrs. Morton, in great distress, spoke next. "My darling, it grieves me to the heart to take you from your dear, kind Daddy. But think, my Star; you are a child now, but you will soon be a woman. You cannot grow up to womanhood in a place like this. You must be with your own people, and have companions of your own age. My children will be like your own sisters and brothers. My dear, if you could only know how they will love you, how we shall all cherish and care for you!"
"When I am dead?" asked Star. "It will make no difference to me, your love, for I shall be dead. I will not go alive."
"Oh, Captain January!" cried Mrs. Morton, turning to the old man with clasped hands. "Speak to her! she will listen to you. Tell her--tell her what you said to me. Tell her that it is right for her to go; that you wish her to go!"
The old man's breathing was heavy and laboured, and for a moment it seemed as if he strove in vain for utterance: but when he spoke, his voice was still soothing and cheerful, though his whole great frame was trembling like a withered leaf. "Star Bright," he said (and between almost every word he paused to draw the short, heavy breath), "I always told ye, ye 'member, that ye was the child of gentlefolks. So bein', 'tis but right that you should have gentle raisin' by them as is yer own flesh and blood. You've done your duty, and more than your duty, by me. Now 'tis time ye did your duty by them as the Lord has sent to ye. You'll have--my--my respeckful love and duty wherever you go, my dear, and you growin' up to be a beautiful lady, as has been a little wild lass. And you'll not forget the old Cap'n, well I know, as will be very comf'table here--"
But here the child broke out with a wild, loud cry, which made all the others start to their feet. "Do you want me to go?" she cried. "Look at me, Daddy Captain! you shall look at me!" She snatched the cap from his hands and flung it into the fire, then faced him with blazing eyes and quivering lip. "Do you want me to go? Are you tired of me?"
Heavier and heavier grew that weight on Captain January's chest: shorter and harder came his breath. His eyes met the child's for a moment, then wavered and fell. "Why--honey--" he said, slowly, "I--I'm an old man now--a very old man. And--and--an old man likes quiet, ye see: and--I'd be quieter by myself, like; and--and so, honey--I--I'd like ye to go."
"You lie!" cried the child; and her voice rang like a silver trumpet in the startled ears of the listeners. "You lie to me, and you lie to God: and you know you lie!"
The next moment she had sprung on to the low window-sill, then turned for an instant, with her little hands clenched in menace, and her great eyes flashing fire that fell like a burning touch on every heart. Her fantastic dress gleamed like a fiery cloud against the gray outside: her hair fell like a glory about her vivid, shining face. A moment she stood there, a vision, a flying star, trailing angry light, never to be forgotten by those who saw; then, like a flash, she vanished.
Captain January tottered to his old chair and sat down in it. "The child is right, Lady and Gentleman!" he said. "I lied! I lied to my God, and to the little child who loved me. May God and the child forgive me!" And he hid his face in his hands, and silence fell for a moment.
Then Mr. Morton, who had walked hastily to the window, and was doing something with his handkerchief, beckoned to his wife. "Isabel," he said, in a low tone, "I will not be a party to this. It's an atrocious and vindictive outrage. I--I--you are not the woman I took you for, if you say another word to that old angel. Let him have the child, and send him one or two of your own into the bar--" but Isabel Morton, laughing through her tears, laid her hand over her husband's lips for a moment. Then going to the old man's chair, she knelt down by it, and took his two hands in hers.
"Captain January!" she said, tenderly. "Dear, dear Captain January! the lie is forgiven: I am very, very sure it is forgiven in heaven, as it will be forgiven in the child's loving heart. And may God never pardon me, if ever word or look of mine come again between you and the child whom God gave you!"
The gray evening was closing in around the lighthouse tower. The guests were gone, and Captain January sat alone beside the fire in his old armchair. The window was still open, for the air was soft and mild. The old man's hands were clasped upon his knee; his heart was lifted as high as heaven, in silent prayer and praise.
Suddenly, at the window, there was a gleam of yellow, a flitting shape, a look, a pause; then a great glad cry, and Star flitted like a ray of moonlight through the window, and fell on Captain January's breast.
"Daddy," she said, breaking the long, happy silence, "dear Daddy, I am sorry I burned your horrid old cap!"