‘Ha,’ said the Earl sarcastically, ’a moralizing tar-bucket. Truly, this age is prolific in wonders. The march of intellect is abroad with a vengeance. But since these good people have been disappointed of their expected morning’s amusement, perhaps you will favor them and myself with this yarn, I think they call it; and Lambert, order some ale to be served round, and let them bring a cup of brandy for our maritime friend here; he must wet his whistle, I suppose, or he will never be able to spin a yarn in true, orthodox, sailor fashion. Sit down, friend, and begin.’
‘I drink when I am dry, my lord,’ said the seaman, ’and I prefer standing to casting anchor here.’
‘Have it your own way, then, but proceed, we are all attention.’
’I had shipped as mate on board a vessel bound from Valparaiso to Virginia, some years ago, when, getting short of provisions, we put into Lima, on the coast of Peru. Here we took on as passenger, an English gentleman in bad health, who was said to be enormously rich, but who bore a very bad character, people said he had murdered his brother’s child, or had him put out of the way, to obtain his inheritance, but he was a rich man and justice was quiet. He had noble blood in his veins, and had been sent out by government as ambassador, or something of that sort. One of our crew came from his native village, and he told me these particulars.’
A singular expression came over the Earl’s features for a moment, and the same low, mocking laugh was again heard, the listeners shuddered and drew closer together: the mariner proceeded.
’We had a rough passage, but when we neared Cape Horn, of all the gales that ever blew in five-and-forty years that I have been at sea, I never saw one like that. One night when the storm was at its utmost, when the lightning, blue and vivid, seemed to surround us with an atmosphere of flame, he rushed upon deck, pale and trembling, declaring he could not stay below, for there was a woman and child there, mocking him and dancing in the lightning’s flash.’ A groan of horror burst from the listeners. The Earl’s cheek flushed for a moment, then turned pale, but he was motionless and passionless in seeming. The seaman glanced at the Earl from under his shaggy eyebrows, and proceeded.
’The sailors spoke together in angry whispers, some of them were for throwing him overboard, and I had hard work to persuade them to leave him to his Maker and his conscience; soon, however, we all heard the wailing cry of a child, then stifling sobs, sounds mingled with the storm like a woman’s voice in agony of supplication, bitter, mocking laughter. I could restrain the men no longer, “we will free our craft from this Jonah,” said they, “the storm is sent for him.” But the vengeance of the Almighty was swifter than theirs, he had climbed the rigging—the stoutest seaman that ever handled rope could not have passed the futtoch shrouds in such a storm, yet he reached