Was the boy going into a trance? Were the dark eyes mesmerizing him, or was all this to be heard in the shell? The Skipper took the shell gently from his hand, and stroked his hair once or twice, quickly and lightly. “That will do!” he said. “The young gentleman can hear truly. All these things are under the sea, yes, and more, oh, many more! Some day you shall see them, young gentleman; who knows? But now comes Franci to make the dinner. Will Senor Colorado dine with the Skipper from the Bahamas? Welcome he will be, truly.”
Little John started, and a guilty flush swept over his clear face.
“I forgot!” he cried. “I forgot all about everything, and Cousin Scraper will be home by this time, and—and—I’ll have to be going, please; but I’ll come again, if you think I may.”
The Skipper had raised his eyebrows at the name of Scraper, and was now looking curiously at the boy. “Who is that you say?” he asked. “Scraper, your cousin? And of your father, young gentleman,—why do you not speak of him?”
“My father is dead,” replied little John. “And my mother too, a good while ago. I don’t remember father. Mother——” he broke off, and dropped his eyes to hide the tears that sprang to them. “Mother died a year ago,” he said; “ever since then I’ve lived with Cousin Scraper. He’s some sort of kin to father, and he says he’s my guardian by law.”
“His other name?” suggested the dark man, quietly. “For example, Endymion?”
“Why, yes!” cried John, raising his honest blue eyes in wonder. “Do you know him, sir? Have you ever been here before?”
The Skipper shook his head. “Not of my life!” he said. “Yet—I make a guess at the name; perhaps of this gentleman I have heard. He—he is a kind person, Colorado?”
John hung his head. He knew that he must not speak evil; his mother had always told him that; yet what else was there to speak about Cousin Scraper? “He—he collects shells!” he faltered, after a pause, during which he was conscious of the Skipper’s eyes piercing through and through him, and probably seeing the very holes in his stockings. But now the Skipper threw back his head with a laugh.
“He collects shells, eh? My faith, I have come to the right place, I with my ‘Nautilus.’ See, young gentleman! I go with my shells where I think is good market. In large cities, many rich people who collect shells. I sell many, many, some very precious. Never have I come up this river of great beauty; but I say, who knows? Maybe here are persons who know themselves, who have the feeling of shells in their hearts. I find, first you, Colorado; and that you have the feeling in your heart I see, at the first look you give to my pretties here. That you have the fortune to live with a collector, that I could not guess, ha? He is kind, I say, this Scraper? He loves you as a son, he gives you his shells to look at, to care for as your own?”