“Now, in a year, two years, I know not, what arrives? A letter, old and worn; a letter soiled, discoloured, of carrying long in a sailor’s pocket, but still easily to be read. This letter—shall we guess, Sir Scraper? Well, then, from her father! The old man in secret, in fear, lying on his bed of death, makes come by stealth a neighbour, kindly disposed to him; makes write by his hand this letter; makes draw up besides, it may be, other papers, what do we know?
“Ah! but remain quiet, dear sir. Grieved that I do not interest you, I must still pray of your presence, that you do not yet withdraw it. Ancient fish-skin, do I tie thee in thy chair?
“So! that is well, and you will remain quiet, Senor, with a thousand pardons!
“This letter, then, it is one to wring the heart. He has longed for his daughter, this poor old man; in two grasping hands held as in a vise, he turns to her who was always kind, he prays her to return, to let him come to her, what she will. Failing this, and knowing that on earth the time is short for him to remain, he bids her not grieve, but send to her home a messenger of trust, and let him look for a certain paper, in a certain place. Finally, he prays for her the blessing of God, this good old man, and bids her farewell, if he may never see her more. Truly, a letter over which a pirate, even a Malay pirate, Colorado of my heart, might shed tears.”
The Skipper’s voice was still quiet, but its deep tones were stern with suppressed feeling; with menace, was it? The child, bewildered, looked from one to the other of his two companions. The Spaniard’s eyes burned red in their depths, his glance seemed to pierce marrow and sinew; he sat leaning lightly forward in his chair, alert, possessing himself, ready for any sudden movement on the part of his adversary; for the old man must be his adversary; something deadly must lie between these two. Mr. Scraper lay back in his chair like one half dead, yet the rage and spite and hatred, the baffled wonder, the incredulity struggling with what was being forced upon him, made lively play in his sunken face. His lean hands clutched the arms of the chair as if they would rend the wood; his frame shook with a palsy. Little John wondered what could ail his guardian; yet his own heart was stirred to its depths by what he had heard.
“The son was bad!” he cried. “He was a bad man! Things must have sat upon his breast all night, and I am sure he could not sleep at all. Are you sorry for a person who is as bad as that? do you think any one tried to help him to be better?”
But the Skipper raised his finger, and pointed to the evil face of the old man.
“Does that man look as if he slept, my son?” he asked.
“Listen always, and you shall hear the last of the story.”
“It’s a lie!” Mr. Scraper screamed at last, recovering the power of speech.
“It’s a lie that you’ve cooked up from what you have heard from the neighbours. May their tongues rot out! And if it were true as the sun, what is it to you? She’s dead, I tell you! She’s been dead these twenty years! I had the papers telling of her death; I’ve got ’em now, you fool.”