“That’s the way o’ them,” commented the old wreck-picker. “Good food, an’ to let it go. I could teach him better.”
But the boy, years after, read it as another and different parable.
They left the beach, climbed a road across the neck of the promontory, and rattled downhill into Port Nassau. Dusk had fallen before they reached the head of its cobbled street; and here one of the postillions drew out a horn from his holster and began to blow loud blasts on it. This at once drew the townsfolk into the road and warned them to get out of the way.
To the child, drowsed by the strong salt air and the rocking of the coach, the glimmering whitewashed houses on either hand went by like a procession in a dream. The figures and groups of men and women on the side-walks, too, had a ghostly, furtive air. They seemed to the boy to be whispering together and muttering. Now this was absurd; for what with the blare of the postillion’s horn, the clatter of hoofs, the jolting and rumbling of wheels, the rattle of glass, our travellers had all the noise to themselves—or all but the voice of the gale now rising again for an afterclap and snoring at the street corners. Yet his instinct was right. Many of the crowd were muttering. These New Englanders had no love to spare for a Collector of Customs, a fine gentlemen from Old England and (rumour said) an atheist to boot. They resented this ostent of entry; the men more sullenly than the women, some of whom in their hearts could not help admiring its high-and-mighty insolence.
The Collector, at any rate, had a crowd to receive him, for it was Saturday evening. On Saturdays by custom the fishing-fleet of Port Nassau made harbour before nightfall, and the crews kept a sort of decorous carnival before the Sabbath, of which they were strict observers. In the lower part of the town, by the quays, much buying and selling went on, in booths of sail-cloth lit as a rule by oil-flares. For close upon a week no boat had been able to put to sea; but the Saturday market and the Saturday gossip and to-and-fro strolling were in full swing none the less, though the salesmen had to substitute hurricane-lamps for their ordinary flares, and the boy—now wide awake again—had a passing glimpse of a couple of booths that had been wrecked by the rising wind and were being rebuilt. He craned out to stare at the helpers, while they, pausing in their work and dragged to and fro by the flapping canvas, stared back as the coach went by.