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"He was
a fine man, too," he said; "but he's dead."

"In heaven's name," cried I, "can you find no reputable life on shore?"

"O no," says he, winking and looking very sly; "they would put me to a
trade. I know a trick worth two of that, I do!"

I asked him what trade could be so dreadful as the one he followed,
where he ran the continual peril of his life, not alone from wind and
sea, but by the horrid cruelty of those who were his masters. He said it
was very true; and then began to praise the life, and tell what a
pleasure it was to get on shore with money in his pocket, and spend it
like a man, and buy apples, and swagger, and surprise what he called
stick-in-the-mud boys. "And then it's not all as bad as that," says he;
"there's worse off than me: there's the twenty-pounders. O laws! you
should see them taking on. Why, I've seen a man as old as you, I
dessay"--(to him I seemed old)--"ah, and he had a beard too--well, and
as soon as we cleared out of the river, and he had the drug out of his
head--my! how he cried and carried on! I made a fine fool of him, I tell
you! And then there's little uns, too: O, little by me! I tell you, I
keep them in order. When we carry little uns, I have a rope's-end of my
own to wollop 'em." And so he ran on, until it came in on me what he
meant by twenty-pounders were those unhappy criminals who were sent
over-seas to slavery in North America, or the still more unhappy
innocents who were kidnapped or trepanned (as the word went) for private
interest or vengeance.

Just then we came to the top of the hill, and looked down on the Ferry
and the Hope. The Firth of Forth (as is very well known) narrows at this
point to the width of a good-sized river, which makes a convenient ferry
going north, and turns the upper reach into a land-locked haven for all
manner of ships. Right in the midst of the narrows lies an islet with
some ruins; on the south shore they have built a pier for the service of
the Ferry; and at the end of the pier, on the other side of the road,
and backed against a pretty garden of holly-trees and hawthorns, I could
see the building which they call the "Hawes Inn."

The town of Queensferry lies farther west, and the neighbourhood of the
inn looked pretty lonely at that time of day, for the boat had just gone
north with passengers. A skiff, however, lay beside the pier, with some
seamen sleeping on the thwarts; this, as Ransome told me, was the brig's
boat waiting for the captain; and about half a mile off, and all alone
in the anchorage, he showed me the _Covenant_ herself. There was a
sea-going bustle on board; yards were swinging into place; and as the
wind blew from that quarter, I could hear the song of the sailors as
they pulled upon the ropes. After all I had listened to upon the way, I
looked at that ship with an extreme abhorrence; and from the bottom of
my heart I pitied all poor souls that were condemned to sail in her.

We had all three pulled up on the brow of the hill; and now I marched
across the road and addressed my uncle. "I think it right to tell you,
sir," says I, "there's nothing that will bring me on board that
_Covenant_."

He seemed to waken from a dream. "Eh?" he said. "What's that?"

I told him over again.

"Well, well," he said, "we'll have to please ye, I suppose. But what are
we standing here for? It's perishing cold; and, if I'm no' mistaken,
they're busking the _Covenant_ for sea."


FOOTNOTES:

[4] Agent.

[5] Unwilling.




CHAPTER VI

WHAT BEFELL AT THE QUEEN'S FERRY


As soon as we came to the inn, Ransome led us up the stair to a small
room, with a bed in it, and heated like an oven by a great fire of coal.
At a table hard by the chimney, a tall, dark, sober looking man sat
writing. In spite of the heat of the room, he wore a thick sea-jacket,
buttoned to the neck, and a tall hairy cap drawn down over his ears; yet
I never saw any man, not even a judge upon the bench, look cooler, or
more studious and self-possessed, than this ship-captain.

He got to his feet at once, and, coming forward, offered his large hand
to Ebenezer. "I am proud to see you, Mr. Balfour," said he, in a fine
deep voice, "and glad that ye are here in time. The wind's fair, and the
tide upon the turn; we'll see the old coal-bucket burning on the Isle of
May before to-night."

"Captain Hoseason," returned my uncle, "you keep your room unco hot."

"It's a habit I have, Mr. Balfour," said the skipper. "I'm a coldrife
man by my nature; I have a cold blood, sir. There's neither fur nor
flannel--no, sir, nor hot rum, will warm up what they call the
temperature. Sir, it's the same with most men that have been
carbonadoed, as they call it, in the tropic seas."

"Well, well, captain," replied my uncle, "we must all be the way we're
made."

But it chanced that this fancy of the captain's had a great share in my
misfortunes. For though I had promised myself not to let my kinsman out
of sight, I was both so impatient for a nearer look of the sea, and so
sickened by the closeness of the room, that when he told me to "run
down-stairs and play myself awhile," I was fool enough to take him at
his word.

Away I went, therefore, leaving the two men sitting down to a bottle and
a great mass of papers; and, crossing the road in front of the inn,
walked down upon the beach. With the wind in that quarter, only little
wavelets, not much bigger than I had seen upon a lake, beat upon the
shore. But the weeds were new to me--some green, some brown and long,
and some with little bladders that crackled between my fingers. Even so
far up the firth, the smell of the sea-water was exceedingly salt and
stirring; the _Covenant_, besides, was beginning to shake out her sails,
which hung upon the yards in clusters; and the spirit of all that I
beheld put me in thoughts of far voyages and foreign places.

I looked, too, at the seamen with the skiff--big brown fellows, some in
shirts, some with jackets, some with coloured handkerchiefs about their
throats, one with a brace of pistols stuck into his pockets, two or
three with knotty bludgeons, and all with their case-knives. I passed
the time of day with one that looked less desperate than his fellows,
and asked him of the sailing of the brig. He said they would get under
way as soon as the ebb set, and expressed his gladness to be out of a
port where there were no taverns and fiddlers; but all with such
horrifying oaths, that I made haste to get away from him.

This threw me back on Ransome, who seemed the least wicked of that gang,
and who soon came out of the inn and ran to me, crying for a bowl of
punch. I told him I would give him no such thing, for neither he nor I
was of an age for such indulgences. "But a glass of ale you may have,
and welcome," said I. He mopped and mowed at me, and called me names;
but he was glad to get the ale for all that; and presently we were set
down at a table in the front room of the inn, and both eating and
drinking with a good appetite.

Here it occurred to me that, as the landlord was a man of that county,
I might do well to make a friend of him. I offered him a share, as was
much the custom in those days; but he was far too great a man to sit
with such poor customers as Ransome and myself, and he was leaving the
room, when I called him back to ask if he knew Mr. Rankeillor.

"Hoot ay," says he, "and a very honest man. And O, by the by," says he,
"was it you that came in with Ebenezer?" And, when I had told him yes,
"Ye'll be no friend of his?" he asked, meaning, in the Scottish way,
that I would be no relative.

I told him no, none.

"I thought not," said he, "and yet ye have a kind of gliff[6] of Mr.
Alexander."

I said it seemed that Ebenezer was ill-seen in the country.

"Nae doubt," said the landlord. "He's a wicked auld man, and there's
many would like to see him girning in a tow:[7] Jennet Clouston and mony
mair that he has harried out of house and hame. And yet he was ance a
fine young fellow too. But that was before the sough[8] gaed abroad
about Mr. Alexander; that was like the death of him."

"And what was it?" I asked.

"Ou, just that he had killed him," said the landlord. "Did ye never hear
that?"

"And what would he kill him for?" said I.

"And what for, but just to get the place," said he.

"The place?" said I. "The Shaws?"

"Nae other place that I ken," said he.

"Ay, man?" said I. "Is that so? Was my--was Alexander the eldest son?"

"'Deed was he," said the landlord. "What else would he have killed him
for?"

And with that he went away, as he had been impatient to do from the
beginning.

Of course, I had guessed it a long while ago; but it is one thing to
guess, another to know; and I sat stunned with my good fortune, and
could scarce grow to believe that the same poor lad who had trudged in
the dust from Ettrick Forest not two days ago, was now one of the rich
of the earth, and had a house and broad lands, and might mount his horse
to-morrow. All these pleasant things, and a thousand others, crowded
into my mind, as I sat staring before me out of the inn window, and
paying no heed to what I saw; only I remember that my eye lighted on
Captain Hoseason down on the pier among his seamen and speaking with
some authority. And presently he came marching back towards the house,
with no mark of a sailor's clumsiness, but carrying his fine, tall
figure with a manly bearing, and still with the same sober, grave
expression on his face. I wondered if it was possible that Ransome's
stories could be true, and half disbelieved them; they fitted so ill
with the man's looks. But, indeed, he was neither so good as I supposed
him, nor quite so bad as Ransome did; for, in fact, he was two men, and
left the better one behind as soon as he set foot on board his vessel.

The next thing, I heard my uncle calling me, and found the pair in the
road together. It was the captain who addressed me, and that with an air
(very flattering to a young lad) of grave equality.

"Sir," said he, "Mr. Balfour tells me great things of you; and for my
own part, I like your looks.



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