The Skipper bowed his head gravely. “The nature of humans is without doubt the same in many lands,” he said. “The little boy whom I hear called John,—he is of near blood to this old gentleman, yes?”
But here Mr. Bill Hen grew redder in the face, which was a difficult feat, and smote the cabin table.
“Burning shame it is about that youngster!” he declared. “Burning shame, if ever there was one in this mortal world. How some folks can set by and see things going on as they’re going on, beats me, and le’ me say I’m hard to beat. That child, sir, is an orphan; got no father nor mother, let alone grandf’ther or grandm’ther, in the land of the living. His father was some kind of a natural, I guess, or else he hadn’t known Deacon Scraper by sight or hearing; but when he dies what does he do but leave that old—old—beetle-bug guardeen of that child, case of his mother dyin’. Well, if I’d ha’ had children, I might leave ’em to a fox for guardeen, or I might leave ’em to a horned pout, whichever I was a mind to, but I wouldn’t leave ’em to Dym Scraper, and you can chalk that up on the door any ways you like.” The good man paused, and puffed and snorted for some minutes in silence. The Skipper waited, his dark face quietly attentive, his eyes very bright.
“Near blood?” Mr. Bill Hen broke out again, with another blow on the table. “No, he aint so dretful near blood, if you come to that. Near as the child’s got, though, seemin’ly. His father, Johnny’s father, was son to Freeborn Scraper, the Deacon’s twin brother. Twins they was, though no more alike than pork and peas. Them two, and Zenoby, the sister, who married off with a furriner and was never heerd of again; but she ain’t in the story, though some say she was her father’s favourite, and that Dym gave her no peace, after Freeborn left, till he got rid of her. All about it, Freeborn went West young, and spent his days there; lived comfortable, and left means when he died. Dym Scraper, he went out to the funeral, and run it, we heerd, Freeborn’s wife being dead and his son weakly; anyway, he brung back them two silver coffin-plates that hangs in the parlour to his house. Next thing we knew—good while after, y’ understand, but first thing we knew, here to the village—the son was dead, too; Mahlon his name was, and had been weakly all his days. Deacon Scraper went out agin, and kinder scraped round, folks reckoned, ’peared to make of the young widder, and meeched up to her, and all. Wal! And here this last year, if she doesn’t up and die! Sing’lar gift folks has for dying out in them parts; living so fur from the sea, I’ve always cal’lated. All about it, that old spider goes out the third time, and no coffin-plates this time, but he brings back the boy; and lo, ye! he’s made full guardeen over the child, and has him, body and soul.