The child came near to him, and laid his hand on his friend’s knee, and looked up in his face with troubled eyes.
“I am not very bright,” he said, “and you think so many things so quickly that I do not know what you mean a good deal of the time. But—but Cousin Scraper took me when my people died, and he has taken care of me ever since, and—and he has no one else to take care of him now.”
“Yes, the fine care he has taken of you!” said the Skipper. “You are of skin and bone, my child, and there are marks on your skin of blows, I saw them yesterday: cruel blows, given from a bad heart. You have worked for him, this ancient fish-skin, how long? Of wages, how much has he paid you? Tell me these things, and I will tell you how much it is your duty to stay by him.”
But John shook his head, and the shadows deepened in his blue eyes.
“You cannot tell a person those things,” he said; “a person has to tell himself those things. But thank you all the same,” he added, fervently; “and I love you always more and more, every day and every minute, and I always shall.”
“Now the question is,” said the Skipper, shrugging his shoulders in mock despair, “must I turn pirate in truth, to gain possession of a child whom I could hold in my pocket, and who would give all his coloured hair from his head to go with me? Go away, son of mine, that I reflect on these things, for you try my soul!”
John withdrew, very sad, and wondering how it was that right and wrong could ever get mixed. He thought of looking in some of the old books to see, but, somehow, books did not appeal to him just now. He went up to his own little room, and took down the china poodle, and had a long talk with him; that was very consoling, and he felt better after it; it was wonderful how it cleared the mind to talk a thing over with an old friend. The poodle said little, but his eyes were full of sympathy, and that was the main thing. By-and-by, as the child sat by his little window, polishing the pearl-shell on his sleeve, and thinking over the strange events of the last few days, there came to him from below the sound of voices. The doctor was there, evidently; perhaps Mr. Bill Hen, too; and little as he felt inclined to merriment, John fell into a helpless laughter, as he recalled the look of that worthy man when he was discovered flattened against the door. How much older one grew sometimes in a short time! Mr. Bill Hen used to look so old, so wise, and now he seemed no more than another boy, and perhaps rather a foolish boy. But seeing the Skipper made a great difference in a person’s life.
Presently the door at the foot of the stairs opened, and John heard his name called; he hastened down, and found Mr. Scraper sitting up in bed, looking pale and savage, but in full possession of his faculties. The doctor was there, a burly, kind-eyed man, and Mr. Bill Hen was there, and the Skipper; and when little John entered, they all looked at him, and no one said anything for a moment.