The Skipper welcomed one and all. He stood by the gang-plank, and Franci stood by him, cap in hand, smiling in a beautiful way. On the rail were perched two little monkeys, their arms round each other’s shoulders, their bright eyes watching with eager curiosity all that went on. When the Skipper bowed, they bowed; when he smiled, they grinned; and when he put out his hand to help a woman or a child aboard, they laid their hands on their hearts, and tried to look like Franci. The Skipper was their lord and master, and they loved and feared him, and did his bidding as often as their nature would allow; but in the depths of their little monkey hearts they cherished a profound admiration for Franci, and they were always hoping that this time they were looking like him when they smiled. (But they never were!)
The only other visible member of the crew was a long, lazy-looking Yankee, whom the Skipper called Rento, and the others plain “Rent,” his full name of Laurentus Woodcock being more than they could away with. But it was not to see the crew, neither the schooner (though she was a pretty schooner enough, as anybody who knew about such matters could see), that the village had come out; it was to see the exhibition, and the exhibition was ready for them. An awning was spread over the after-deck, and under this was arranged with care the main collection of corals and shells, the commoner sorts, such as found a ready sale at low prices. There was pure white coral, in long branches, studded with tiny points, like the wraith of the fairy thorn; there were great piles of the delicate fan-coral, which the sailors call sea-fans, and which Franci would hold out to every girl who had any pretence to good looks, with his most gracious bow, and “Young lady like to fan herself, keep the sun off, here you air, ladies!” While Laurentus would blush and hang his head if any woman addressed him, and would murmur the wrong price in an unintelligible voice if the woman happened to be young and pretty.
Then there were mushroom corals, so inviting that one could hardly refrain from carrying them home and cooking them for tea; and pincushion corals, round and hard, looking as if they had been stolen from the best bedroom of some uncompromising New England mermaid. Yes; there was no end to the corals. The lovely white branches were cheap, and nearly every child went off with a branch, small or large, dwelling on it with eyes of rapture, seeing nothing else in the world, in some cases failing to see even the way, and being rescued from peril of water by the Skipper or Rento. The favourite shells were the conches, of all sizes and varieties, from the huge pink-lipped Tritons of the “Triumph of Galatea,” down to fairy things, many-whorled, rainbow-tinted, which were included in the “handful for five cents” which Franci joyously proclaimed at intervals, when he thought the children looked wistful and needed cheering up, since they could not have all they saw.