“You—you came upon me sudden,” she explained.
“Stupid of me!” thought John; and going to the house, fetched not only a dish of cream but the tea-caddy and a kettle, which they put to boil outside the summer-house over a fire of dried brambles. The tea revived Hester and set her tongue going. “’Tis quite a picnic!” said John, and told himself privately that it was the happiest hour they had spent together for many a month.
Two evenings later, on his return from St. Austell market, he happened to let himself in by the door of the walled garden just beneath the house, and came on a tall young man talking there in the dusk with his wife.
“Why, ’tis Zeke Penhaligon! How d’ee do, my lad? Now, ’tis queer, but only five minutes a-gone I was talkin’ about ’ee with your skipper, Nummy Tangye, t’other side o’ the ferry. He says you’m goin’ up for your mate’s certificate, and ought to get it. Very well he spoke of ’ee. Why don’t Hester invite you inside? Come’st ’long in to supper, my son.”
Zeke followed them in, and this was the first of many visits. John was one of those naturally friendly souls (there are many in the world) who never go forth to seek friends, and to whom few friends ever come, and these by accident. Zeke’s talk set his tongue running on his own brief Wanderjahre. And Hester would sit and listen to the pair with heightened colour, which made John wonder why, as a rule, she shunned company—it did her so much good. So it grew to be a settled thing that whenever the Touch-me-not entered port a knife and fork awaited Zeke up at Hall, and the oftener he came the pleasanter was John’s face.
Three years passed, and in the summer of the third year Captain Nummy Tangye, of the Touch-me-not, relinquished his command. Captain Tangye’s baptismal name was Matthias, and Bideford, in Devon, his native town. But the Touch-me-not, which he had commanded for thirty-five years, happened to carry for figurehead a wooden Highlander holding a thistle close to his chest, and against his thigh a scroll with the motto, Noli Me Tangere, and this being, in popular belief, an effigy of the captain taken in the prime of life, Mr. Tangye cheerfully accepted the fiction with its implication of Scottish descent, and was known at home and in various out-of-the-way parts of the world as Nolim or Nummy. He even carried about a small volume of Burns in his pocket; not from any love of poetry, but to demonstrate, when required, that Scotsmen have their own notions of spelling.
Captain Tangye owned a preponderance of shares in the Touch-me-not, and had no difficulty in getting Zeke (who now held a master’s certificate) appointed to succeed him. The old man hauled ashore to a cottage with a green door and a brass knocker and a garden high over the water-side. In this he spent the most of his time with a glittering brass telescope of uncommon length, and in the intervals of studying the weather and the shipping, watched John Penaluna at work across the harbour.